How to Write a Business Plan: Step-by-Step Guide + Examples

Determined female African-American entrepreneur scaling a mountain while wearing a large backpack. Represents the journey to starting and growing a business and needing to write a business plan to get there.

Noah Parsons

24 min. read

Updated April 17, 2024

Writing a business plan doesn’t have to be complicated. 

In this step-by-step guide, you’ll learn how to write a business plan that’s detailed enough to impress bankers and potential investors, while giving you the tools to start, run, and grow a successful business.

  • The basics of business planning

If you’re reading this guide, then you already know why you need a business plan . 

You understand that planning helps you: 

  • Raise money
  • Grow strategically
  • Keep your business on the right track 

As you start to write your plan, it’s useful to zoom out and remember what a business plan is .

At its core, a business plan is an overview of the products and services you sell, and the customers that you sell to. It explains your business strategy: how you’re going to build and grow your business, what your marketing strategy is, and who your competitors are.

Most business plans also include financial forecasts for the future. These set sales goals, budget for expenses, and predict profits and cash flow. 

A good business plan is much more than just a document that you write once and forget about. It’s also a guide that helps you outline and achieve your goals. 

After completing your plan, you can use it as a management tool to track your progress toward your goals. Updating and adjusting your forecasts and budgets as you go is one of the most important steps you can take to run a healthier, smarter business. 

We’ll dive into how to use your plan later in this article.

There are many different types of plans , but we’ll go over the most common type here, which includes everything you need for an investor-ready plan. However, if you’re just starting out and are looking for something simpler—I recommend starting with a one-page business plan . It’s faster and easier to create. 

It’s also the perfect place to start if you’re just figuring out your idea, or need a simple strategic plan to use inside your business.

Dig deeper : How to write a one-page business plan

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  • What to include in your business plan

Executive summary

The executive summary is an overview of your business and your plans. It comes first in your plan and is ideally just one to two pages. Most people write it last because it’s a summary of the complete business plan.

Ideally, the executive summary can act as a stand-alone document that covers the highlights of your detailed plan. 

In fact, it’s common for investors to ask only for the executive summary when evaluating your business. If they like what they see in the executive summary, they’ll often follow up with a request for a complete plan, a pitch presentation , or more in-depth financial forecasts .

Your executive summary should include:

  • A summary of the problem you are solving
  • A description of your product or service
  • An overview of your target market
  • A brief description of your team
  • A summary of your financials
  • Your funding requirements (if you are raising money)

Dig Deeper: How to write an effective executive summary

Products and services description

This is where you describe exactly what you’re selling, and how it solves a problem for your target market. The best way to organize this part of your plan is to start by describing the problem that exists for your customers. After that, you can describe how you plan to solve that problem with your product or service. 

This is usually called a problem and solution statement .

To truly showcase the value of your products and services, you need to craft a compelling narrative around your offerings. How will your product or service transform your customers’ lives or jobs? A strong narrative will draw in your readers.

This is also the part of the business plan to discuss any competitive advantages you may have, like specific intellectual property or patents that protect your product. If you have any initial sales, contracts, or other evidence that your product or service is likely to sell, include that information as well. It will show that your idea has traction , which can help convince readers that your plan has a high chance of success.

Market analysis

Your target market is a description of the type of people that you plan to sell to. You might even have multiple target markets, depending on your business. 

A market analysis is the part of your plan where you bring together all of the information you know about your target market. Basically, it’s a thorough description of who your customers are and why they need what you’re selling. You’ll also include information about the growth of your market and your industry .

Try to be as specific as possible when you describe your market. 

Include information such as age, income level, and location—these are what’s called “demographics.” If you can, also describe your market’s interests and habits as they relate to your business—these are “psychographics.” 

Related: Target market examples

Essentially, you want to include any knowledge you have about your customers that is relevant to how your product or service is right for them. With a solid target market, it will be easier to create a sales and marketing plan that will reach your customers. That’s because you know who they are, what they like to do, and the best ways to reach them.

Next, provide any additional information you have about your market. 

What is the size of your market ? Is the market growing or shrinking? Ideally, you’ll want to demonstrate that your market is growing over time, and also explain how your business is positioned to take advantage of any expected changes in your industry.

Dig Deeper: Learn how to write a market analysis

Competitive analysis

Part of defining your business opportunity is determining what your competitive advantage is. To do this effectively, you need to know as much about your competitors as your target customers. 

Every business has some form of competition. If you don’t think you have competitors, then explore what alternatives there are in the market for your product or service. 

For example: In the early years of cars, their main competition was horses. For social media, the early competition was reading books, watching TV, and talking on the phone.

A good competitive analysis fully lays out the competitive landscape and then explains how your business is different. Maybe your products are better made, or cheaper, or your customer service is superior. Maybe your competitive advantage is your location – a wide variety of factors can ultimately give you an advantage.

Dig Deeper: How to write a competitive analysis for your business plan

Marketing and sales plan

The marketing and sales plan covers how you will position your product or service in the market, the marketing channels and messaging you will use, and your sales tactics. 

The best place to start with a marketing plan is with a positioning statement . 

This explains how your business fits into the overall market, and how you will explain the advantages of your product or service to customers. You’ll use the information from your competitive analysis to help you with your positioning. 

For example: You might position your company as the premium, most expensive but the highest quality option in the market. Or your positioning might focus on being locally owned and that shoppers support the local economy by buying your products.

Once you understand your positioning, you’ll bring this together with the information about your target market to create your marketing strategy . 

This is how you plan to communicate your message to potential customers. Depending on who your customers are and how they purchase products like yours, you might use many different strategies, from social media advertising to creating a podcast. Your marketing plan is all about how your customers discover who you are and why they should consider your products and services. 

While your marketing plan is about reaching your customers—your sales plan will describe the actual sales process once a customer has decided that they’re interested in what you have to offer. 

If your business requires salespeople and a long sales process, describe that in this section. If your customers can “self-serve” and just make purchases quickly on your website, describe that process. 

A good sales plan picks up where your marketing plan leaves off. The marketing plan brings customers in the door and the sales plan is how you close the deal.

Together, these specific plans paint a picture of how you will connect with your target audience, and how you will turn them into paying customers.

Dig deeper: What to include in your sales and marketing plan

Business operations

The operations section describes the necessary requirements for your business to run smoothly. It’s where you talk about how your business works and what day-to-day operations look like. 

Depending on how your business is structured, your operations plan may include elements of the business like:

  • Supply chain management
  • Manufacturing processes
  • Equipment and technology
  • Distribution

Some businesses distribute their products and reach their customers through large retailers like, Walmart, Target, and grocery store chains. 

These businesses should review how this part of their business works. The plan should discuss the logistics and costs of getting products onto store shelves and any potential hurdles the business may have to overcome.

If your business is much simpler than this, that’s OK. This section of your business plan can be either extremely short or more detailed, depending on the type of business you are building.

For businesses selling services, such as physical therapy or online software, you can use this section to describe the technology you’ll leverage, what goes into your service, and who you will partner with to deliver your services.

Dig Deeper: Learn how to write the operations chapter of your plan

Key milestones and metrics

Although it’s not required to complete your business plan, mapping out key business milestones and the metrics can be incredibly useful for measuring your success.

Good milestones clearly lay out the parameters of the task and set expectations for their execution. You’ll want to include:

  • A description of each task
  • The proposed due date
  • Who is responsible for each task

If you have a budget, you can include projected costs to hit each milestone. You don’t need extensive project planning in this section—just list key milestones you want to hit and when you plan to hit them. This is your overall business roadmap. 

Possible milestones might be:

  • Website launch date
  • Store or office opening date
  • First significant sales
  • Break even date
  • Business licenses and approvals

You should also discuss the key numbers you will track to determine your success. Some common metrics worth tracking include:

  • Conversion rates
  • Customer acquisition costs
  • Profit per customer
  • Repeat purchases

It’s perfectly fine to start with just a few metrics and grow the number you are tracking over time. You also may find that some metrics simply aren’t relevant to your business and can narrow down what you’re tracking.

Dig Deeper: How to use milestones in your business plan

Organization and management team

Investors don’t just look for great ideas—they want to find great teams. Use this chapter to describe your current team and who you need to hire . You should also provide a quick overview of your location and history if you’re already up and running.

Briefly highlight the relevant experiences of each key team member in the company. It’s important to make the case for why yours is the right team to turn an idea into a reality. 

Do they have the right industry experience and background? Have members of the team had entrepreneurial successes before? 

If you still need to hire key team members, that’s OK. Just note those gaps in this section.

Your company overview should also include a summary of your company’s current business structure . The most common business structures include:

  • Sole proprietor
  • Partnership

Be sure to provide an overview of how the business is owned as well. Does each business partner own an equal portion of the business? How is ownership divided? 

Potential lenders and investors will want to know the structure of the business before they will consider a loan or investment.

Dig Deeper: How to write about your company structure and team

Financial plan

Last, but certainly not least, is your financial plan chapter. 

Entrepreneurs often find this section the most daunting. But, business financials for most startups are less complicated than you think, and a business degree is certainly not required to build a solid financial forecast. 

A typical financial forecast in a business plan includes the following:

  • Sales forecast : An estimate of the sales expected over a given period. You’ll break down your forecast into the key revenue streams that you expect to have.
  • Expense budget : Your planned spending such as personnel costs , marketing expenses, and taxes.
  • Profit & Loss : Brings together your sales and expenses and helps you calculate planned profits.
  • Cash Flow : Shows how cash moves into and out of your business. It can predict how much cash you’ll have on hand at any given point in the future.
  • Balance Sheet : A list of the assets, liabilities, and equity in your company. In short, it provides an overview of the financial health of your business. 

A strong business plan will include a description of assumptions about the future, and potential risks that could impact the financial plan. Including those will be especially important if you’re writing a business plan to pursue a loan or other investment.

Dig Deeper: How to create financial forecasts and budgets

This is the place for additional data, charts, or other information that supports your plan.

Including an appendix can significantly enhance the credibility of your plan by showing readers that you’ve thoroughly considered the details of your business idea, and are backing your ideas up with solid data.

Just remember that the information in the appendix is meant to be supplementary. Your business plan should stand on its own, even if the reader skips this section.

Dig Deeper : What to include in your business plan appendix

Optional: Business plan cover page

Adding a business plan cover page can make your plan, and by extension your business, seem more professional in the eyes of potential investors, lenders, and partners. It serves as the introduction to your document and provides necessary contact information for stakeholders to reference.

Your cover page should be simple and include:

  • Company logo
  • Business name
  • Value proposition (optional)
  • Business plan title
  • Completion and/or update date
  • Address and contact information
  • Confidentiality statement

Just remember, the cover page is optional. If you decide to include it, keep it very simple and only spend a short amount of time putting it together.

Dig Deeper: How to create a business plan cover page

How to use AI to help write your business plan

Generative AI tools such as ChatGPT can speed up the business plan writing process and help you think through concepts like market segmentation and competition. These tools are especially useful for taking ideas that you provide and converting them into polished text for your business plan.

The best way to use AI for your business plan is to leverage it as a collaborator , not a replacement for human creative thinking and ingenuity. 

AI can come up with lots of ideas and act as a brainstorming partner. It’s up to you to filter through those ideas and figure out which ones are realistic enough to resonate with your customers. 

There are pros and cons of using AI to help with your business plan . So, spend some time understanding how it can be most helpful before just outsourcing the job to AI.

Learn more: 10 AI prompts you need to write a business plan

  • Writing tips and strategies

To help streamline the business plan writing process, here are a few tips and key questions to answer to make sure you get the most out of your plan and avoid common mistakes .  

Determine why you are writing a business plan

Knowing why you are writing a business plan will determine your approach to your planning project. 

For example: If you are writing a business plan for yourself, or just to use inside your own business , you can probably skip the section about your team and organizational structure. 

If you’re raising money, you’ll want to spend more time explaining why you’re looking to raise the funds and exactly how you will use them.

Regardless of how you intend to use your business plan , think about why you are writing and what you’re trying to get out of the process before you begin.

Keep things concise

Probably the most important tip is to keep your business plan short and simple. There are no prizes for long business plans . The longer your plan is, the less likely people are to read it. 

So focus on trimming things down to the essentials your readers need to know. Skip the extended, wordy descriptions and instead focus on creating a plan that is easy to read —using bullets and short sentences whenever possible.

Have someone review your business plan

Writing a business plan in a vacuum is never a good idea. Sometimes it’s helpful to zoom out and check if your plan makes sense to someone else. You also want to make sure that it’s easy to read and understand.

Don’t wait until your plan is “done” to get a second look. Start sharing your plan early, and find out from readers what questions your plan leaves unanswered. This early review cycle will help you spot shortcomings in your plan and address them quickly, rather than finding out about them right before you present your plan to a lender or investor.

If you need a more detailed review, you may want to explore hiring a professional plan writer to thoroughly examine it.

Use a free business plan template and business plan examples to get started

Knowing what information to include in a business plan is sometimes not quite enough. If you’re struggling to get started or need additional guidance, it may be worth using a business plan template. 

There are plenty of great options available (we’ve rounded up our 8 favorites to streamline your search).

But, if you’re looking for a free downloadable business plan template , you can get one right now; download the template used by more than 1 million businesses. 

Or, if you just want to see what a completed business plan looks like, check out our library of over 550 free business plan examples . 

We even have a growing list of industry business planning guides with tips for what to focus on depending on your business type.

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re writing your business plan. Some entrepreneurs get sucked into the writing and research process, and don’t focus enough on actually getting their business started. 

Here are a few common mistakes and how to avoid them:

Not talking to your customers : This is one of the most common mistakes. It’s easy to assume that your product or service is something that people want. Before you invest too much in your business and too much in the planning process, make sure you talk to your prospective customers and have a good understanding of their needs.

  • Overly optimistic sales and profit forecasts: By nature, entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future. But it’s good to temper that optimism a little when you’re planning, and make sure your forecasts are grounded in reality. 
  • Spending too much time planning: Yes, planning is crucial. But you also need to get out and talk to customers, build prototypes of your product and figure out if there’s a market for your idea. Make sure to balance planning with building.
  • Not revising the plan: Planning is useful, but nothing ever goes exactly as planned. As you learn more about what’s working and what’s not—revise your plan, your budgets, and your revenue forecast. Doing so will provide a more realistic picture of where your business is going, and what your financial needs will be moving forward.
  • Not using the plan to manage your business: A good business plan is a management tool. Don’t just write it and put it on the shelf to collect dust – use it to track your progress and help you reach your goals.
  • Presenting your business plan

The planning process forces you to think through every aspect of your business and answer questions that you may not have thought of. That’s the real benefit of writing a business plan – the knowledge you gain about your business that you may not have been able to discover otherwise.

With all of this knowledge, you’re well prepared to convert your business plan into a pitch presentation to present your ideas. 

A pitch presentation is a summary of your plan, just hitting the highlights and key points. It’s the best way to present your business plan to investors and team members.

Dig Deeper: Learn what key slides should be included in your pitch deck

Use your business plan to manage your business

One of the biggest benefits of planning is that it gives you a tool to manage your business better. With a revenue forecast, expense budget, and projected cash flow, you know your targets and where you are headed.

And yet, nothing ever goes exactly as planned – it’s the nature of business.

That’s where using your plan as a management tool comes in. The key to leveraging it for your business is to review it periodically and compare your forecasts and projections to your actual results.

Start by setting up a regular time to review the plan – a monthly review is a good starting point. During this review, answer questions like:

  • Did you meet your sales goals?
  • Is spending following your budget?
  • Has anything gone differently than what you expected?

Now that you see whether you’re meeting your goals or are off track, you can make adjustments and set new targets. 

Maybe you’re exceeding your sales goals and should set new, more aggressive goals. In that case, maybe you should also explore more spending or hiring more employees. 

Or maybe expenses are rising faster than you projected. If that’s the case, you would need to look at where you can cut costs.

A plan, and a method for comparing your plan to your actual results , is the tool you need to steer your business toward success.

Learn More: How to run a regular plan review

Free business plan templates and examples

Kickstart your business plan writing with one of our free business plan templates or recommended tools.

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How to write a business plan FAQ

What is a business plan?

A document that describes your business , the products and services you sell, and the customers that you sell to. It explains your business strategy, how you’re going to build and grow your business, what your marketing strategy is, and who your competitors are.

What are the benefits of a business plan?

A business plan helps you understand where you want to go with your business and what it will take to get there. It reduces your overall risk, helps you uncover your business’s potential, attracts investors, and identifies areas for growth.

Having a business plan ultimately makes you more confident as a business owner and more likely to succeed for a longer period of time.

What are the 7 steps of a business plan?

The seven steps to writing a business plan include:

  • Write a brief executive summary
  • Describe your products and services.
  • Conduct market research and compile data into a cohesive market analysis.
  • Describe your marketing and sales strategy.
  • Outline your organizational structure and management team.
  • Develop financial projections for sales, revenue, and cash flow.
  • Add any additional documents to your appendix.

What are the 5 most common business plan mistakes?

There are plenty of mistakes that can be made when writing a business plan. However, these are the 5 most common that you should do your best to avoid:

  • 1. Not taking the planning process seriously.
  • Having unrealistic financial projections or incomplete financial information.
  • Inconsistent information or simple mistakes.
  • Failing to establish a sound business model.
  • Not having a defined purpose for your business plan.

What questions should be answered in a business plan?

Writing a business plan is all about asking yourself questions about your business and being able to answer them through the planning process. You’ll likely be asking dozens and dozens of questions for each section of your plan.

However, these are the key questions you should ask and answer with your business plan:

  • How will your business make money?
  • Is there a need for your product or service?
  • Who are your customers?
  • How are you different from the competition?
  • How will you reach your customers?
  • How will you measure success?

How long should a business plan be?

The length of your business plan fully depends on what you intend to do with it. From the SBA and traditional lender point of view, a business plan needs to be whatever length necessary to fully explain your business. This means that you prove the viability of your business, show that you understand the market, and have a detailed strategy in place.

If you intend to use your business plan for internal management purposes, you don’t necessarily need a full 25-50 page business plan. Instead, you can start with a one-page plan to get all of the necessary information in place.

What are the different types of business plans?

While all business plans cover similar categories, the style and function fully depend on how you intend to use your plan. Here are a few common business plan types worth considering.

Traditional business plan: The tried-and-true traditional business plan is a formal document meant to be used when applying for funding or pitching to investors. This type of business plan follows the outline above and can be anywhere from 10-50 pages depending on the amount of detail included, the complexity of your business, and what you include in your appendix.

Business model canvas: The business model canvas is a one-page template designed to demystify the business planning process. It removes the need for a traditional, copy-heavy business plan, in favor of a single-page outline that can help you and outside parties better explore your business idea.

One-page business plan: This format is a simplified version of the traditional plan that focuses on the core aspects of your business. You’ll typically stick with bullet points and single sentences. It’s most useful for those exploring ideas, needing to validate their business model, or who need an internal plan to help them run and manage their business.

Lean Plan: The Lean Plan is less of a specific document type and more of a methodology. It takes the simplicity and styling of the one-page business plan and turns it into a process for you to continuously plan, test, review, refine, and take action based on performance. It’s faster, keeps your plan concise, and ensures that your plan is always up-to-date.

What’s the difference between a business plan and a strategic plan?

A business plan covers the “who” and “what” of your business. It explains what your business is doing right now and how it functions. The strategic plan explores long-term goals and explains “how” the business will get there. It encourages you to look more intently toward the future and how you will achieve your vision.

However, when approached correctly, your business plan can actually function as a strategic plan as well. If kept lean, you can define your business, outline strategic steps, and track ongoing operations all with a single plan.

See why 1.2 million entrepreneurs have written their business plans with LivePlan

Content Author: Noah Parsons

Noah is the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan. He started his career at Yahoo! and then helped start the user review site From there he started a software distribution business in the UK before coming to Palo Alto Software to run the marketing and product teams.

Start stronger by writing a quick business plan. Check out LivePlan

Table of Contents

  • Use AI to help write your plan
  • Common planning mistakes
  • Manage with your business plan
  • Templates and examples

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How to Build a Detailed Business Plan That Stands Out [Free Template]

AJ Beltis

Updated: March 29, 2022

Published: March 11, 2022

While starting a company may seem easier now than ever before, entrepreneurs have an uphill battle from the moment they start a business. And without a clear, actionable business plan for selling, marketing, finances, and operations, you're almost destined to face significant challenges.

Entrepreneur builds his business plan template

This is why crafting a business plan is an essential step in the entrepreneurial process.

In this post, we'll walk you through the process of filling out your business plan template, like this free, editable version :

free editable One-Page Business Plan PDF  Template

Download a free, editable one-page business plan template.

We know that when looking at a blank page on a laptop screen, the idea of writing your business plan can seem impossible. However, it's a mandatory step to take if you want to turn your business dreams into a reality.

→ Download Now: Free Business Plan Template

That's why we've crafted a business plan template for you to download and use to build your new company. You can download it here for free . It contains prompts for all of the essential parts of a business plan, all of which are elaborated on, below.

This way, you'll be able to show them how organized and well-thought-out your business idea is, and provide them with answers to whatever questions they may have.

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Building a Successful Business Plan

In the next section, we'll cover the components of a business plan , such as an executive summary and company description. But before we get to that, let's talk about key elements that should serve as building blocks for your plan.

For some entrepreneurs, the thought of writing a business plan sounds like a chore — a necessary means to an end. But that's a bad take.

A solid business plan is a blueprint for success . It's key to securing financing, presenting your business, outlining your financial projections, and turning that nugget of a business idea into a reality.

At the core, your business plan should answer two questions: why your business and why now?

Investors want to know why your business is entering the market, i.e. what problem it's solving and how it's different from what's currently out there. They also want to know why now is the right time for your type of product or service.

At a minimum, your plan should:

  • Be more realistic than idealistic: Too often, business plans focus too much on how things could be instead of how they are. While having a vision is important, your plan needs to be rooted in research and data.
  • Legitimize your business idea : If an idea fails on paper, it's a signal to go back to the drawing board. In doing so, you avoid losing precious time or money chasing an unrealistic idea.
  • Position your business for funding: To get your business off the ground, chances are you'll need financial backing. Even with a solid business idea, investors, lenders, and banks still need convincing. An effective business plan will outline how much money you need, where it's going, what targets you will hit, and how you plan to repay any debts.
  • Lay the foundation: Investors focus on risk – if anything looks shaky, it could be a dealbreaker. Ideally, your business plan will lay down the foundation for how you'll operate your business — from operational needs to financial projections and goals.
  • Communicate your needs: It's nearly impossible to communicate your needs if you don't know what they are first. Of course, a business’ needs are always changing — but your plan should give you a well-rounded view of how your business will work in the short and long term.

So back to the question of why and why now – consider three things:

  • Your industry – How does your product or service fit within your industry? Are you targeting a specific niche? Where do you see the industry going in the next five to 10 years?
  • Your target audience – Who are you targeting? What challenges are they facing? How will your product or service help them in their daily lives?
  • Your unique selling proposition (USP) – What sets you apart from your competitors? Is it your product/service features? Your company values? Price?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you'll be equipped to answer the question: why your business and why now.

How to Build a Business Plan

  • Executive Summary
  • Company and Business Description
  • Product and Services Line
  • Market Analysis
  • Marketing Plan
  • Legal Notes
  • Financial Considerations

Featured Resource: Free Business Plan Template

1. cover page.

Your business plan should be prefaced with an eye-catching cover page. This means including a high-resolution image of your company logo, followed by your company's name, address, and phone number.

Since this business plan will likely change hands and be seen by multiple investors, you should also provide your own name, role in the business, and email address on the cover page.

At the bottom of this page, you can also add a confidentiality statement to protect against the disclosure of your business details.

The statement can read as follows: " This document contains confidential and proprietary information created by [your company name]. When receiving this document, you agree to keep its content confidential and may only reproduce and/or share it with express written permission of [your company name] ."

Remember to keep your cover page simple and concise — and save the important details for other sections.

Why it matters: First impressions are everything, and a clean cover page is the first step in the right direction.

Example of a Cover Page

Business Plan Template: Cover Page

2. Executive Summary

The executive summary of your business plan provides a one- to two-page overview of your business and highlights the most crucial pieces of your plan, such as your short-term and long-term goals.

The executive summary is essentially a boiled-down version of your entire business plan, so remember to keep this section to the point and filled only with essential information.

Typically, this brief section includes:

  • A mission statement.
  • The company's history and leadership model.
  • An overview of competitive advantage(s).
  • Financial projections.
  • Company goals.
  • An ask from potential investors.

Why it matters: The executive summary is known as the make-or-break section of a business plan. It influences whether investors turn the page or not — so effectively summarizing your business and the problem it hopes to solve is a must.

Think of the Summary as a written elevator pitch (with more detail). While your business plan provides the nitty-gritty details, your Summary describes — in a compelling but matter-of-fact language — the highlights of your plan. If it's too vague, complicated, or fuzzy, you may need to scrap it and start again.

Example of an Executive Summary Introduction

"The future looks bright for North Side Chicago, particularly the Rock Hill Neighborhood. A number of high-end commercial and residential developments are well on their way, along with two new condo developments in nearby neighborhoods.

While the completion of these developments will increase the population within the neighborhood and stimulate the economy, the area lacks an upscale restaurant where residents and visitors can enjoy fine food and drink. Jay Street Lounge and Restaurant will provide such a place."

3. Company & Business Description

In this section, provide a more thorough description of what your company is and why it exists.

Business Plan Template: Business Description

The bulk of the writing in this section should be about your company's purpose – covering what the business will be selling, identifying the target market, and laying out a path to success.

In this portion of your business plan, you can also elaborate on your company's:

  • Mission statement
  • Core values
  • Team and organizational structure

Why it matters: Investors look for great structures and teams in addition to great ideas. This section gives an overview of your businesses' ethos. It's the perfect opportunity to set your business apart from the competition — such as your team's expertise, your unique work culture, and your competitive advantage.

Example of a Values/Mission Statement

"Jay Street Lounge and Restaurant will be the go-to place for people to get a drink or bite in an elegant, upscale atmosphere. The mission is to be North Side's leading restaurant, with the best tasting food and the highest quality service."

3. Product & Services Line

Here's where you'll cover the makeup of your business's product and/or services line. You should provide each product or service's name, its purpose, and a description of how it works (if appropriate). If you own any patents, copyrights, or trademarks, it's essential to include this info too.

Next, add some color to your sales strategy by outlining your pricing model and mark-up amounts.

If you're selling tangible products, you should also explain production and costs, and how you expect these factors to change as you scale.

Why it matters: This section contains the real meat of your business plan. It sets the stage for the problem you hope to solve, your solution, and how your said solution fits in the market.

There's no one-size-fits-all formula for this section. For instance, one plan may delve into its ability to market in a more cost-effective way than the competition, whereas another plan focuses on its key products and their unique features and benefits.

Regardless of your angle, it's critical to convey how your offerings will differ from the competition.

Example of a Product/Service Offering

"The menu at Jay Street Lounge and Restaurant will focus on Moroccan cuisine. The stars of the menu (our specialties) are the Moroccan dishes, such as eggplant zaalouk, seafood bastilla, tagine, and chickpea stew. For those who enjoy American dishes, there will also be a variety of options, from burger sliders and flatbread pizza to grilled steak and salads.

The food at Jay Street will have premium pricing to match its upscale atmosphere. During the summer months, the restaurant will have extra seating on the patio where clients can enjoy a special summer menu. We will be open on all days of the week."

4. Market Analysis

Business Plan Template: Market Analysis

It helps to reference your market research documentation in this section, like a Porter's Five Forces Analysis or a SWOT Analysis ( templates for those are available here ). You can also include them in your appendix.

If your company already has buyer personas, you should include them here as well. If not, you can create them right now using the Make My Persona Tool .

Why it matters: Having an awesome product is, well, awesome — but it isn't enough. Just as important, there must be a market for it.

This section allows you to dig deeper into your market, which segments you want to target, and why. The "why" here is important, since targeting the right segment is critical for the success and growth of your business.

It's easy to get lost (or overwhelmed) in a sea of endless data. For your business plan, narrow your focus by answering the following questions:

  • What is my market? In other words, who are my customers?
  • What segments of the market do I want to target?
  • What's the size of my target market?
  • Is my market likely to grow?
  • How can I increase my market share over time?

Example of a Market Analysis

"Jay Street Lounge and Restaurant will target locals who live and work within the Rock Hill Neighborhood and the greater North Side Chicago area. We will also target the tourists who flock to the many tourist attractions and colleges on the North Side.

We will specifically focus on young to middle-aged adults with an income of $40,000 to $80,000 who are looking for an upscale experience. The general demographics of our target market are women between 20 to 50 years old.

A unique and varied Moroccan-American menu, along with our unique upscale atmosphere, differentiates us from competitors in the area. Jay Street will also set itself apart through its commitment to high-quality food, service, design, and atmosphere."

5. Marketing Plan

Unlike the market analysis section, your marketing plan section should be an explanation of the tactical approach to reaching your aforementioned target audience. List your advertising channels, organic marketing methods, messaging, budget, and any relevant promotional tactics.

If your company has a fully fleshed-out marketing plan, you can attach it in the appendix of your business plan. If not, download this free marketing plan template to outline your strategy.

to make your business plan stand out you must

Free Marketing Plan Template

Outline your company's marketing strategy in one simple, coherent plan.

  • Pre-Sectioned Template
  • Completely Customizable
  • Example Prompts
  • Professionally Designed

Why it matters: Marketing is what puts your product in front of your customers. It's not just advertising — it's an investment in your business.

Throwing money into random marketing channels is a haphazard approach, which is why it's essential to do the legwork to create a solid marketing plan.

Here's some good news — by this point, you should have a solid understanding of your target market. Now, it's time to determine how you'll reach them.

Example of a Marketing Plan Overview

"Our marketing strategy will focus on three main initiatives:

  • Social media marketing. We will grow and expand our Facebook and Instagram following through targeted social media ads.
  • Website initiatives. Our website will attract potential visitors by offering updated menus and a calendar of events.
  • Promotional events. Jay Street will have one special theme night per week to attract new clients."

6. Sales Plan

It doesn't matter if your sales department is an office full of business development representatives (BDR) or a dozen stores with your products on their shelves.

The point is: All sales plans are different, so you should clearly outline yours here. Common talking points include your:

  • Sales team structure, and why this structure was chosen.
  • Sales channels.
  • Sales tools, software, and resources.
  • Prospecting strategy.
  • Sales goals and budget.

Like with your marketing plan, it might make sense to attach your completed sales plan to the appendix of your business plan. You can download a template for building your sales plan here .

Why it matters: Among other things, investors are interested in the scalability of your business — which is why growth strategies are a critical part of your business plan.

Your sales plan should describe your plan to attract customers, retain them (if applicable), and, ultimately, grow your business. Be sure to outline what you plan to do given your existing resources and what results you expect from your work.

Example of a Sales Plan Overview

"The most important goal is to ensure financial success for Jay Street Lounge and Restaurant. We believe we can achieve this by offering excellent food, entertainment, and service to our clients.

We are not a low-cost dining option in the area. Instead, the food will have premium pricing to match its upscale feel. The strategy is to give Jay Street a perception of elegance through its food, entertainment, and excellent service."

7. Legal Notes

Your investors may want to know the legal structure of your business, as that could directly impact the risk of their investments. For example, if you're looking for business partners to engage in a non-corporation or LLC partnership, this means they could be on the line for more than their actual investment.

Because this clarification is often needed, explain if you are and/or plan to become a sole proprietor, partnership, corporation, LLC, or other.

You should also outline the steps you have taken (or will need to take) to operate legally. This includes licenses, permits, registrations, and insurance.

The last thing your investor wants to hear after they've sent you a big chunk of change is that you're operating without proper approval from the local, state, or federal government.

Why it matters: The last thing your investor wants to hear after they've sent you a big chunk of change is that you're operating without proper approval from the local, state, or federal government.

Example of Legal Notes

"Jay Street Lounge and Restaurant is up-to-date on all restaurant licenses and health permits. Our business name and logo are registered trademarks, presenting the possibility of expanding locally."

8. Financial Considerations

Ultimately, investors want to know two things:

  • When they will earn their money back.
  • When they will start seeing returns on their initial investment.

That said, be clear, calculated, and convincing in this section. It should cover:

  • Startup costs.
  • Sales forecasts for the next several months/quarters.
  • Break-even analysis for time and dollars.
  • Projected profit and loss (P&L) statement.

Facts and figures are key here, so be as specific as possible with each line item and projection. In addition, explain the "why" behind each of these sections.

However, keep in mind that information overload is a risk, especially when it comes to data. So, if you have pages upon pages of charts and spreadsheets for this section, distill them into a page or two and include the rest of the sheets in the appendix. This section should only focus on key data points.

Why it matters: One of the most important aspects of becoming "investor ready" is knowing your numbers. More importantly, you need to understand how those numbers will enhance your business.

While it's easy to write a number down on paper, it's more important to understand (and communicate) why you need capital, where it's going, and that your evaluation makes sense.

Example of Financial Projections

"Based on our knowledge and experience in the restaurant industry, we have come up with projections for the business.

Starting with an expenditure of $400,000 in year 1, we forecast sales of $1,500,000 and $2,800,000 for years two and three. We expect to achieve a net profit of 15% by year three."

9. Appendix

A detailed and well-developed business plan can range anywhere from 20 to 50 pages, with some even reaching upward of 80.

In many cases, the appendix is the longest section. Why? Because it includes the supportive materials mentioned in previous sections. To avoid disrupting the flow of the business plan with visuals, charts, and spreadsheets, business owners usually add them in the last section, i.e. the appendix.

Aside from what we've already mentioned – marketing plan, sales plan, department budgets, financial documents – you may also want to attach the following in the appendix:

  • Marketing materials
  • Market research data
  • Licensing documentation
  • Branding assets
  • Floor plans for your location
  • Mockups of your product
  • Renderings of your office space or location design

Adding these pieces to the appendix enriches the reader's understanding of your business and proves you've put the work into your business plan without distracting from the main points throughout the plan.

Why it matters: An appendix helps the reader do their due diligence. It contains everything they need to support your business plan.

Keep in mind, however, that an appendix is typically necessary only if you're seeking financing or looking to attract business partners.

Use a Business Plan Template to Get Started

Writing a business plan shouldn't be an insurmountable roadblock to starting a business. Unfortunately, for all too many, it is.

That's why we recommend using our free business plan template. Pre-filled with detailed section prompts for all of the topics in this blog post, we're confident this template will get your business plan started in the right direction.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in June 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Business Plan Template

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How to Write a Business Plan in 9 Steps (+ Template and Examples)

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Every successful business has one thing in common, a good and well-executed business plan. A business plan is more than a document, it is a complete guide that outlines the goals your business wants to achieve, including its financial goals . It helps you analyze results, make strategic decisions, show your business operations and growth.

If you want to start a business or already have one and need to pitch it to investors for funding, writing a good business plan improves your chances of attracting financiers. As a startup, if you want to secure loans from financial institutions, part of the requirements involve submitting your business plan.

Writing a business plan does not have to be a complicated or time-consuming process. In this article, you will learn the step-by-step process for writing a successful business plan.

You will also learn what you need a business plan for, tips and strategies for writing a convincing business plan, business plan examples and templates that will save you tons of time, and the alternatives to the traditional business plan.

Let’s get started.

What Do You Need A Business Plan For?

Businesses create business plans for different purposes such as to secure funds, monitor business growth, measure your marketing strategies, and measure your business success.

1. Secure Funds

One of the primary reasons for writing a business plan is to secure funds, either from financial institutions/agencies or investors.

For you to effectively acquire funds, your business plan must contain the key elements of your business plan . For example, your business plan should include your growth plans, goals you want to achieve, and milestones you have recorded.

A business plan can also attract new business partners that are willing to contribute financially and intellectually. If you are writing a business plan to a bank, your project must show your traction , that is, the proof that you can pay back any loan borrowed.

Also, if you are writing to an investor, your plan must contain evidence that you can effectively utilize the funds you want them to invest in your business. Here, you are using your business plan to persuade a group or an individual that your business is a source of a good investment.

2. Monitor Business Growth

A business plan can help you track cash flows in your business. It steers your business to greater heights. A business plan capable of tracking business growth should contain:

  • The business goals
  • Methods to achieve the goals
  • Time-frame for attaining those goals

A good business plan should guide you through every step in achieving your goals. It can also track the allocation of assets to every aspect of the business. You can tell when you are spending more than you should on a project.

You can compare a business plan to a written GPS. It helps you manage your business and hints at the right time to expand your business.

3. Measure Business Success

A business plan can help you measure your business success rate. Some small-scale businesses are thriving better than more prominent companies because of their track record of success.

Right from the onset of your business operation, set goals and work towards them. Write a plan to guide you through your procedures. Use your plan to measure how much you have achieved and how much is left to attain.

You can also weigh your success by monitoring the position of your brand relative to competitors. On the other hand, a business plan can also show you why you have not achieved a goal. It can tell if you have elapsed the time frame you set to attain a goal.

4. Document Your Marketing Strategies

You can use a business plan to document your marketing plans. Every business should have an effective marketing plan.

Competition mandates every business owner to go the extraordinary mile to remain relevant in the market. Your business plan should contain your marketing strategies that work. You can measure the success rate of your marketing plans.

In your business plan, your marketing strategy must answer the questions:

  • How do you want to reach your target audience?
  • How do you plan to retain your customers?
  • What is/are your pricing plans?
  • What is your budget for marketing?

Business Plan Infographic

How to Write a Business Plan Step-by-Step

1. create your executive summary.

The executive summary is a snapshot of your business or a high-level overview of your business purposes and plans . Although the executive summary is the first section in your business plan, most people write it last. The length of the executive summary is not more than two pages.

Executive Summary of the business plan

Generally, there are nine sections in a business plan, the executive summary should condense essential ideas from the other eight sections.

A good executive summary should do the following:

  • A Snapshot of Growth Potential. Briefly inform the reader about your company and why it will be successful)
  • Contain your Mission Statement which explains what the main objective or focus of your business is.
  • Product Description and Differentiation. Brief description of your products or services and why it is different from other solutions in the market.
  • The Team. Basic information about your company’s leadership team and employees
  • Business Concept. A solid description of what your business does.
  • Target Market. The customers you plan to sell to.
  • Marketing Strategy. Your plans on reaching and selling to your customers
  • Current Financial State. Brief information about what revenue your business currently generates.
  • Projected Financial State. Brief information about what you foresee your business revenue to be in the future.

The executive summary is the make-or-break section of your business plan. If your summary cannot in less than two pages cannot clearly describe how your business will solve a particular problem of your target audience and make a profit, your business plan is set on a faulty foundation.

Avoid using the executive summary to hype your business, instead, focus on helping the reader understand the what and how of your plan.

View the executive summary as an opportunity to introduce your vision for your company. You know your executive summary is powerful when it can answer these key questions:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What sector or industry are you in?
  • What are your products and services?
  • What is the future of your industry?
  • Is your company scaleable?
  • Who are the owners and leaders of your company? What are their backgrounds and experience levels?
  • What is the motivation for starting your company?
  • What are the next steps?

Writing the executive summary last although it is the most important section of your business plan is an excellent idea. The reason why is because it is a high-level overview of your business plan. It is the section that determines whether potential investors and lenders will read further or not.

The executive summary can be a stand-alone document that covers everything in your business plan. It is not uncommon for investors to request only the executive summary when evaluating your business. If the information in the executive summary impresses them, they will ask for the complete business plan.

If you are writing your business plan for your planning purposes, you do not need to write the executive summary.

2. Add Your Company Overview

The company overview or description is the next section in your business plan after the executive summary. It describes what your business does.

Adding your company overview can be tricky especially when your business is still in the planning stages. Existing businesses can easily summarize their current operations but may encounter difficulties trying to explain what they plan to become.

Your company overview should contain the following:

  • What products and services you will provide
  • Geographical markets and locations your company have a presence
  • What you need to run your business
  • Who your target audience or customers are
  • Who will service your customers
  • Your company’s purpose, mission, and vision
  • Information about your company’s founders
  • Who the founders are
  • Notable achievements of your company so far

When creating a company overview, you have to focus on three basics: identifying your industry, identifying your customer, and explaining the problem you solve.

If you are stuck when creating your company overview, try to answer some of these questions that pertain to you.

  • Who are you targeting? (The answer is not everyone)
  • What pain point does your product or service solve for your customers that they will be willing to spend money on resolving?
  • How does your product or service overcome that pain point?
  • Where is the location of your business?
  • What products, equipment, and services do you need to run your business?
  • How is your company’s product or service different from your competition in the eyes of your customers?
  • How many employees do you need and what skills do you require them to have?

After answering some or all of these questions, you will get more than enough information you need to write your company overview or description section. When writing this section, describe what your company does for your customers.

It describes what your business does

The company description or overview section contains three elements: mission statement, history, and objectives.

  • Mission Statement

The mission statement refers to the reason why your business or company is existing. It goes beyond what you do or sell, it is about the ‘why’. A good mission statement should be emotional and inspirational.

Your mission statement should follow the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid). For example, Shopify’s mission statement is “Make commerce better for everyone.”

When describing your company’s history, make it simple and avoid the temptation of tying it to a defensive narrative. Write it in the manner you would a profile. Your company’s history should include the following information:

  • Founding Date
  • Major Milestones
  • Location(s)
  • Flagship Products or Services
  • Number of Employees
  • Executive Leadership Roles

When you fill in this information, you use it to write one or two paragraphs about your company’s history.

Business Objectives

Your business objective must be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.) Failure to clearly identify your business objectives does not inspire confidence and makes it hard for your team members to work towards a common purpose.

3. Perform Market and Competitive Analyses to Proof a Big Enough Business Opportunity

The third step in writing a business plan is the market and competitive analysis section. Every business, no matter the size, needs to perform comprehensive market and competitive analyses before it enters into a market.

Performing market and competitive analyses are critical for the success of your business. It helps you avoid entering the right market with the wrong product, or vice versa. Anyone reading your business plans, especially financiers and financial institutions will want to see proof that there is a big enough business opportunity you are targeting.

This section is where you describe the market and industry you want to operate in and show the big opportunities in the market that your business can leverage to make a profit. If you noticed any unique trends when doing your research, show them in this section.

Market analysis alone is not enough, you have to add competitive analysis to strengthen this section. There are already businesses in the industry or market, how do you plan to take a share of the market from them?

You have to clearly illustrate the competitive landscape in your business plan. Are there areas your competitors are doing well? Are there areas where they are not doing so well? Show it.

Make it clear in this section why you are moving into the industry and what weaknesses are present there that you plan to explain. How are your competitors going to react to your market entry? How do you plan to get customers? Do you plan on taking your competitors' competitors, tap into other sources for customers, or both?

Illustrate the competitive landscape as well. What are your competitors doing well and not so well?

Answering these questions and thoughts will aid your market and competitive analysis of the opportunities in your space. Depending on how sophisticated your industry is, or the expectations of your financiers, you may need to carry out a more comprehensive market and competitive analysis to prove that big business opportunity.

Instead of looking at the market and competitive analyses as one entity, separating them will make the research even more comprehensive.

Market Analysis

Market analysis, boarding speaking, refers to research a business carried out on its industry, market, and competitors. It helps businesses gain a good understanding of their target market and the outlook of their industry. Before starting a company, it is vital to carry out market research to find out if the market is viable.

Market Analysis for Online Business

The market analysis section is a key part of the business plan. It is the section where you identify who your best clients or customers are. You cannot omit this section, without it your business plan is incomplete.

A good market analysis will tell your readers how you fit into the existing market and what makes you stand out. This section requires in-depth research, it will probably be the most time-consuming part of the business plan to write.

  • Market Research

To create a compelling market analysis that will win over investors and financial institutions, you have to carry out thorough market research . Your market research should be targeted at your primary target market for your products or services. Here is what you want to find out about your target market.

  • Your target market’s needs or pain points
  • The existing solutions for their pain points
  • Geographic Location
  • Demographics

The purpose of carrying out a marketing analysis is to get all the information you need to show that you have a solid and thorough understanding of your target audience.

Only after you have fully understood the people you plan to sell your products or services to, can you evaluate correctly if your target market will be interested in your products or services.

You can easily convince interested parties to invest in your business if you can show them you thoroughly understand the market and show them that there is a market for your products or services.

How to Quantify Your Target Market

One of the goals of your marketing research is to understand who your ideal customers are and their purchasing power. To quantify your target market, you have to determine the following:

  • Your Potential Customers: They are the people you plan to target. For example, if you sell accounting software for small businesses , then anyone who runs an enterprise or large business is unlikely to be your customers. Also, individuals who do not have a business will most likely not be interested in your product.
  • Total Households: If you are selling household products such as heating and air conditioning systems, determining the number of total households is more important than finding out the total population in the area you want to sell to. The logic is simple, people buy the product but it is the household that uses it.
  • Median Income: You need to know the median income of your target market. If you target a market that cannot afford to buy your products and services, your business will not last long.
  • Income by Demographics: If your potential customers belong to a certain age group or gender, determining income levels by demographics is necessary. For example, if you sell men's clothes, your target audience is men.

What Does a Good Market Analysis Entail?

Your business does not exist on its own, it can only flourish within an industry and alongside competitors. Market analysis takes into consideration your industry, target market, and competitors. Understanding these three entities will drastically improve your company’s chances of success.

Market Analysis Steps

You can view your market analysis as an examination of the market you want to break into and an education on the emerging trends and themes in that market. Good market analyses include the following:

  • Industry Description. You find out about the history of your industry, the current and future market size, and who the largest players/companies are in your industry.
  • Overview of Target Market. You research your target market and its characteristics. Who are you targeting? Note, it cannot be everyone, it has to be a specific group. You also have to find out all information possible about your customers that can help you understand how and why they make buying decisions.
  • Size of Target Market: You need to know the size of your target market, how frequently they buy, and the expected quantity they buy so you do not risk overproducing and having lots of bad inventory. Researching the size of your target market will help you determine if it is big enough for sustained business or not.
  • Growth Potential: Before picking a target market, you want to be sure there are lots of potential for future growth. You want to avoid going for an industry that is declining slowly or rapidly with almost zero growth potential.
  • Market Share Potential: Does your business stand a good chance of taking a good share of the market?
  • Market Pricing and Promotional Strategies: Your market analysis should give you an idea of the price point you can expect to charge for your products and services. Researching your target market will also give you ideas of pricing strategies you can implement to break into the market or to enjoy maximum profits.
  • Potential Barriers to Entry: One of the biggest benefits of conducting market analysis is that it shows you every potential barrier to entry your business will likely encounter. It is a good idea to discuss potential barriers to entry such as changing technology. It informs readers of your business plan that you understand the market.
  • Research on Competitors: You need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and how you can exploit them for the benefit of your business. Find patterns and trends among your competitors that make them successful, discover what works and what doesn’t, and see what you can do better.

The market analysis section is not just for talking about your target market, industry, and competitors. You also have to explain how your company can fill the hole you have identified in the market.

Here are some questions you can answer that can help you position your product or service in a positive light to your readers.

  • Is your product or service of superior quality?
  • What additional features do you offer that your competitors do not offer?
  • Are you targeting a ‘new’ market?

Basically, your market analysis should include an analysis of what already exists in the market and an explanation of how your company fits into the market.

Competitive Analysis

In the competitive analysis section, y ou have to understand who your direct and indirect competitions are, and how successful they are in the marketplace. It is the section where you assess the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, the advantage(s) they possess in the market and show the unique features or qualities that make you different from your competitors.

Four Steps to Create a Competitive Marketing Analysis

Many businesses do market analysis and competitive analysis together. However, to fully understand what the competitive analysis entails, it is essential to separate it from the market analysis.

Competitive analysis for your business can also include analysis on how to overcome barriers to entry in your target market.

The primary goal of conducting a competitive analysis is to distinguish your business from your competitors. A strong competitive analysis is essential if you want to convince potential funding sources to invest in your business. You have to show potential investors and lenders that your business has what it takes to compete in the marketplace successfully.

Competitive analysis will s how you what the strengths of your competition are and what they are doing to maintain that advantage.

When doing your competitive research, you first have to identify your competitor and then get all the information you can about them. The idea of spending time to identify your competitor and learn everything about them may seem daunting but it is well worth it.

Find answers to the following questions after you have identified who your competitors are.

  • What are your successful competitors doing?
  • Why is what they are doing working?
  • Can your business do it better?
  • What are the weaknesses of your successful competitors?
  • What are they not doing well?
  • Can your business turn its weaknesses into strengths?
  • How good is your competitors’ customer service?
  • Where do your competitors invest in advertising?
  • What sales and pricing strategies are they using?
  • What marketing strategies are they using?
  • What kind of press coverage do they get?
  • What are their customers saying about your competitors (both the positive and negative)?

If your competitors have a website, it is a good idea to visit their websites for more competitors’ research. Check their “About Us” page for more information.

How to Perform Competitive Analysis

If you are presenting your business plan to investors, you need to clearly distinguish yourself from your competitors. Investors can easily tell when you have not properly researched your competitors.

Take time to think about what unique qualities or features set you apart from your competitors. If you do not have any direct competition offering your product to the market, it does not mean you leave out the competitor analysis section blank. Instead research on other companies that are providing a similar product, or whose product is solving the problem your product solves.

The next step is to create a table listing the top competitors you want to include in your business plan. Ensure you list your business as the last and on the right. What you just created is known as the competitor analysis table.

Direct vs Indirect Competition

You cannot know if your product or service will be a fit for your target market if you have not understood your business and the competitive landscape.

There is no market you want to target where you will not encounter competition, even if your product is innovative. Including competitive analysis in your business plan is essential.

If you are entering an established market, you need to explain how you plan to differentiate your products from the available options in the market. Also, include a list of few companies that you view as your direct competitors The competition you face in an established market is your direct competition.

In situations where you are entering a market with no direct competition, it does not mean there is no competition there. Consider your indirect competition that offers substitutes for the products or services you offer.

For example, if you sell an innovative SaaS product, let us say a project management software , a company offering time management software is your indirect competition.

There is an easy way to find out who your indirect competitors are in the absence of no direct competitors. You simply have to research how your potential customers are solving the problems that your product or service seeks to solve. That is your direct competition.

Factors that Differentiate Your Business from the Competition

There are three main factors that any business can use to differentiate itself from its competition. They are cost leadership, product differentiation, and market segmentation.

1. Cost Leadership

A strategy you can impose to maximize your profits and gain an edge over your competitors. It involves offering lower prices than what the majority of your competitors are offering.

A common practice among businesses looking to enter into a market where there are dominant players is to use free trials or pricing to attract as many customers as possible to their offer.

2. Product Differentiation

Your product or service should have a unique selling proposition (USP) that your competitors do not have or do not stress in their marketing.

Part of the marketing strategy should involve making your products unique and different from your competitors. It does not have to be different from your competitors, it can be the addition to a feature or benefit that your competitors do not currently have.

3. Market Segmentation

As a new business seeking to break into an industry, you will gain more success from focusing on a specific niche or target market, and not the whole industry.

If your competitors are focused on a general need or target market, you can differentiate yourself from them by having a small and hyper-targeted audience. For example, if your competitors are selling men’s clothes in their online stores , you can sell hoodies for men.

4. Define Your Business and Management Structure

The next step in your business plan is your business and management structure. It is the section where you describe the legal structure of your business and the team running it.

Your business is only as good as the management team that runs it, while the management team can only strive when there is a proper business and management structure in place.

If your company is a sole proprietor or a limited liability company (LLC), a general or limited partnership, or a C or an S corporation, state it clearly in this section.

Use an organizational chart to show the management structure in your business. Clearly show who is in charge of what area in your company. It is where you show how each key manager or team leader’s unique experience can contribute immensely to the success of your company. You can also opt to add the resumes and CVs of the key players in your company.

The business and management structure section should show who the owner is, and other owners of the businesses (if the business has other owners). For businesses or companies with multiple owners, include the percent ownership of the various owners and clearly show the extent of each others’ involvement in the company.

Investors want to know who is behind the company and the team running it to determine if it has the right management to achieve its set goals.

Management Team

The management team section is where you show that you have the right team in place to successfully execute the business operations and ideas. Take time to create the management structure for your business. Think about all the important roles and responsibilities that you need managers for to grow your business.

Include brief bios of each key team member and ensure you highlight only the relevant information that is needed. If your team members have background industry experience or have held top positions for other companies and achieved success while filling that role, highlight it in this section.

Create Management Team For Business Plan

A common mistake that many startups make is assigning C-level titles such as (CMO and CEO) to everyone on their team. It is unrealistic for a small business to have those titles. While it may look good on paper for the ego of your team members, it can prevent investors from investing in your business.

Instead of building an unrealistic management structure that does not fit your business reality, it is best to allow business titles to grow as the business grows. Starting everyone at the top leaves no room for future change or growth, which is bad for productivity.

Your management team does not have to be complete before you start writing your business plan. You can have a complete business plan even when there are managerial positions that are empty and need filling.

If you have management gaps in your team, simply show the gaps and indicate you are searching for the right candidates for the role(s). Investors do not expect you to have a full management team when you are just starting your business.

Key Questions to Answer When Structuring Your Management Team

  • Who are the key leaders?
  • What experiences, skills, and educational backgrounds do you expect your key leaders to have?
  • Do your key leaders have industry experience?
  • What positions will they fill and what duties will they perform in those positions?
  • What level of authority do the key leaders have and what are their responsibilities?
  • What is the salary for the various management positions that will attract the ideal candidates?

Additional Tips for Writing the Management Structure Section

1. Avoid Adding ‘Ghost’ Names to Your Management Team

There is always that temptation to include a ‘ghost’ name to your management team to attract and influence investors to invest in your business. Although the presence of these celebrity management team members may attract the attention of investors, it can cause your business to lose any credibility if you get found out.

Seasoned investors will investigate further the members of your management team before committing fully to your business If they find out that the celebrity name used does not play any actual role in your business, they will not invest and may write you off as dishonest.

2. Focus on Credentials But Pay Extra Attention to the Roles

Investors want to know the experience that your key team members have to determine if they can successfully reach the company’s growth and financial goals.

While it is an excellent boost for your key management team to have the right credentials, you also want to pay extra attention to the roles they will play in your company.

Organizational Chart

Organizational chart Infographic

Adding an organizational chart in this section of your business plan is not necessary, you can do it in your business plan’s appendix.

If you are exploring funding options, it is not uncommon to get asked for your organizational chart. The function of an organizational chart goes beyond raising money, you can also use it as a useful planning tool for your business.

An organizational chart can help you identify how best to structure your management team for maximum productivity and point you towards key roles you need to fill in the future.

You can use the organizational chart to show your company’s internal management structure such as the roles and responsibilities of your management team, and relationships that exist between them.

5. Describe Your Product and Service Offering

In your business plan, you have to describe what you sell or the service you plan to offer. It is the next step after defining your business and management structure. The products and services section is where you sell the benefits of your business.

Here you have to explain how your product or service will benefit your customers and describe your product lifecycle. It is also the section where you write down your plans for intellectual property like patent filings and copyrighting.

The research and development that you are undertaking for your product or service need to be explained in detail in this section. However, do not get too technical, sell the general idea and its benefits.

If you have any diagrams or intricate designs of your product or service, do not include them in the products and services section. Instead, leave them for the addendum page. Also, if you are leaving out diagrams or designs for the addendum, ensure you add this phrase “For more detail, visit the addendum Page #.”

Your product and service section in your business plan should include the following:

  • A detailed explanation that clearly shows how your product or service works.
  • The pricing model for your product or service.
  • Your business’ sales and distribution strategy.
  • The ideal customers that want your product or service.
  • The benefits of your products and services.
  • Reason(s) why your product or service is a better alternative to what your competitors are currently offering in the market.
  • Plans for filling the orders you receive
  • If you have current or pending patents, copyrights, and trademarks for your product or service, you can also discuss them in this section.

What to Focus On When Describing the Benefits, Lifecycle, and Production Process of Your Products or Services

In the products and services section, you have to distill the benefits, lifecycle, and production process of your products and services.

When describing the benefits of your products or services, here are some key factors to focus on.

  • Unique features
  • Translating the unique features into benefits
  • The emotional, psychological, and practical payoffs to attract customers
  • Intellectual property rights or any patents

When describing the product life cycle of your products or services, here are some key factors to focus on.

  • Upsells, cross-sells, and down-sells
  • Time between purchases
  • Plans for research and development.

When describing the production process for your products or services, you need to think about the following:

  • The creation of new or existing products and services.
  • The sources for the raw materials or components you need for production.
  • Assembling the products
  • Maintaining quality control
  • Supply-chain logistics (receiving the raw materials and delivering the finished products)
  • The day-to-day management of the production processes, bookkeeping, and inventory.

Tips for Writing the Products or Services Section of Your Business Plan

1. Avoid Technical Descriptions and Industry Buzzwords

The products and services section of your business plan should clearly describe the products and services that your company provides. However, it is not a section to include technical jargons that anyone outside your industry will not understand.

A good practice is to remove highly detailed or technical descriptions in favor of simple terms. Industry buzzwords are not necessary, if there are simpler terms you can use, then use them. If you plan to use your business plan to source funds, making the product or service section so technical will do you no favors.

2. Describe How Your Products or Services Differ from Your Competitors

When potential investors look at your business plan, they want to know how the products and services you are offering differ from that of your competition. Differentiating your products or services from your competition in a way that makes your solution more attractive is critical.

If you are going the innovative path and there is no market currently for your product or service, you need to describe in this section why the market needs your product or service.

For example, overnight delivery was a niche business that only a few companies were participating in. Federal Express (FedEx) had to show in its business plan that there was a large opportunity for that service and they justified why the market needed that service.

3. Long or Short Products or Services Section

Should your products or services section be short? Does the long products or services section attract more investors?

There are no straightforward answers to these questions. Whether your products or services section should be long or relatively short depends on the nature of your business.

If your business is product-focused, then automatically you need to use more space to describe the details of your products. However, if the product your business sells is a commodity item that relies on competitive pricing or other pricing strategies, you do not have to use up so much space to provide significant details about the product.

Likewise, if you are selling a commodity that is available in numerous outlets, then you do not have to spend time on writing a long products or services section.

The key to the success of your business is most likely the effectiveness of your marketing strategies compared to your competitors. Use more space to address that section.

If you are creating a new product or service that the market does not know about, your products or services section can be lengthy. The reason why is because you need to explain everything about the product or service such as the nature of the product, its use case, and values.

A short products or services section for an innovative product or service will not give the readers enough information to properly evaluate your business.

4. Describe Your Relationships with Vendors or Suppliers

Your business will rely on vendors or suppliers to supply raw materials or the components needed to make your products. In your products and services section, describe your relationships with your vendors and suppliers fully.

Avoid the mistake of relying on only one supplier or vendor. If that supplier or vendor fails to supply or goes out of business, you can easily face supply problems and struggle to meet your demands. Plan to set up multiple vendor or supplier relationships for better business stability.

5. Your Primary Goal Is to Convince Your Readers

The primary goal of your business plan is to convince your readers that your business is viable and to create a guide for your business to follow. It applies to the products and services section.

When drafting this section, think like the reader. See your reader as someone who has no idea about your products and services. You are using the products and services section to provide the needed information to help your reader understand your products and services. As a result, you have to be clear and to the point.

While you want to educate your readers about your products or services, you also do not want to bore them with lots of technical details. Show your products and services and not your fancy choice of words.

Your products and services section should provide the answer to the “what” question for your business. You and your management team may run the business, but it is your products and services that are the lifeblood of the business.

Key Questions to Answer When Writing your Products and Services Section

Answering these questions can help you write your products and services section quickly and in a way that will appeal to your readers.

  • Are your products existing on the market or are they still in the development stage?
  • What is your timeline for adding new products and services to the market?
  • What are the positives that make your products and services different from your competitors?
  • Do your products and services have any competitive advantage that your competitors’ products and services do not currently have?
  • Do your products or services have any competitive disadvantages that you need to overcome to compete with your competitors? If your answer is yes, state how you plan to overcome them,
  • How much does it cost to produce your products or services? How much do you plan to sell it for?
  • What is the price for your products and services compared to your competitors? Is pricing an issue?
  • What are your operating costs and will it be low enough for you to compete with your competitors and still take home a reasonable profit margin?
  • What is your plan for acquiring your products? Are you involved in the production of your products or services?
  • Are you the manufacturer and produce all the components you need to create your products? Do you assemble your products by using components supplied by other manufacturers? Do you purchase your products directly from suppliers or wholesalers?
  • Do you have a steady supply of products that you need to start your business? (If your business is yet to kick-off)
  • How do you plan to distribute your products or services to the market?

You can also hint at the marketing or promotion plans you have for your products or services such as how you plan to build awareness or retain customers. The next section is where you can go fully into details about your business’s marketing and sales plan.

6. Show and Explain Your Marketing and Sales Plan

Providing great products and services is wonderful, but it means nothing if you do not have a marketing and sales plan to inform your customers about them. Your marketing and sales plan is critical to the success of your business.

The sales and marketing section is where you show and offer a detailed explanation of your marketing and sales plan and how you plan to execute it. It covers your pricing plan, proposed advertising and promotion activities, activities and partnerships you need to make your business a success, and the benefits of your products and services.

There are several ways you can approach your marketing and sales strategy. Ideally, your marketing and sales strategy has to fit the unique needs of your business.

In this section, you describe how the plans your business has for attracting and retaining customers, and the exact process for making a sale happen. It is essential to thoroughly describe your complete marketing and sales plans because you are still going to reference this section when you are making financial projections for your business.

Outline Your Business’ Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

The sales and marketing section is where you outline your business’s unique selling proposition (USP). When you are developing your unique selling proposition, think about the strongest reasons why people should buy from you over your competition. That reason(s) is most likely a good fit to serve as your unique selling proposition (USP).

Target Market and Target Audience

Plans on how to get your products or services to your target market and how to get your target audience to buy them go into this section. You also highlight the strengths of your business here, particularly what sets them apart from your competition.

Target Market Vs Target Audience

Before you start writing your marketing and sales plan, you need to have properly defined your target audience and fleshed out your buyer persona. If you do not first understand the individual you are marketing to, your marketing and sales plan will lack any substance and easily fall.

Creating a Smart Marketing and Sales Plan

Marketing your products and services is an investment that requires you to spend money. Like any other investment, you have to generate a good return on investment (ROI) to justify using that marketing and sales plan. Good marketing and sales plans bring in high sales and profits to your company.

Avoid spending money on unproductive marketing channels. Do your research and find out the best marketing and sales plan that works best for your company.

Your marketing and sales plan can be broken into different parts: your positioning statement, pricing, promotion, packaging, advertising, public relations, content marketing, social media, and strategic alliances.

Your Positioning Statement

Your positioning statement is the first part of your marketing and sales plan. It refers to the way you present your company to your customers.

Are you the premium solution, the low-price solution, or are you the intermediary between the two extremes in the market? What do you offer that your competitors do not that can give you leverage in the market?

Before you start writing your positioning statement, you need to spend some time evaluating the current market conditions. Here are some questions that can help you to evaluate the market

  • What are the unique features or benefits that you offer that your competitors lack?
  • What are your customers’ primary needs and wants?
  • Why should a customer choose you over your competition? How do you plan to differentiate yourself from the competition?
  • How does your company’s solution compare with other solutions in the market?

After answering these questions, then you can start writing your positioning statement. Your positioning statement does not have to be in-depth or too long.

All you need to explain with your positioning statement are two focus areas. The first is the position of your company within the competitive landscape. The other focus area is the core value proposition that sets your company apart from other alternatives that your ideal customer might consider.

Here is a simple template you can use to develop a positioning statement.

For [description of target market] who [need of target market], [product or service] [how it meets the need]. Unlike [top competition], it [most essential distinguishing feature].

For example, let’s create the positioning statement for fictional accounting software and QuickBooks alternative , TBooks.

“For small business owners who need accounting services, TBooks is an accounting software that helps small businesses handle their small business bookkeeping basics quickly and easily. Unlike Wave, TBooks gives small businesses access to live sessions with top accountants.”

You can edit this positioning statement sample and fill it with your business details.

After writing your positioning statement, the next step is the pricing of your offerings. The overall positioning strategy you set in your positioning statement will often determine how you price your products or services.

Pricing is a powerful tool that sends a strong message to your customers. Failure to get your pricing strategy right can make or mar your business. If you are targeting a low-income audience, setting a premium price can result in low sales.

You can use pricing to communicate your positioning to your customers. For example, if you are offering a product at a premium price, you are sending a message to your customers that the product belongs to the premium category.

Basic Rules to Follow When Pricing Your Offering

Setting a price for your offering involves more than just putting a price tag on it. Deciding on the right pricing for your offering requires following some basic rules. They include covering your costs, primary and secondary profit center pricing, and matching the market rate.

  • Covering Your Costs: The price you set for your products or service should be more than it costs you to produce and deliver them. Every business has the same goal, to make a profit. Depending on the strategy you want to use, there are exceptions to this rule. However, the vast majority of businesses follow this rule.
  • Primary and Secondary Profit Center Pricing: When a company sets its price above the cost of production, it is making that product its primary profit center. A company can also decide not to make its initial price its primary profit center by selling below or at even with its production cost. It rather depends on the support product or even maintenance that is associated with the initial purchase to make its profit. The initial price thus became its secondary profit center.
  • Matching the Market Rate: A good rule to follow when pricing your products or services is to match your pricing with consumer demand and expectations. If you price your products or services beyond the price your customer perceives as the ideal price range, you may end up with no customers. Pricing your products too low below what your customer perceives as the ideal price range may lead to them undervaluing your offering.

Pricing Strategy

Your pricing strategy influences the price of your offering. There are several pricing strategies available for you to choose from when examining the right pricing strategy for your business. They include cost-plus pricing, market-based pricing, value pricing, and more.

Pricing strategy influences the price of offering

  • Cost-plus Pricing: This strategy is one of the simplest and oldest pricing strategies. Here you consider the cost of producing a unit of your product and then add a profit to it to arrive at your market price. It is an effective pricing strategy for manufacturers because it helps them cover their initial costs. Another name for the cost-plus pricing strategy is the markup pricing strategy.
  • Market-based Pricing: This pricing strategy analyses the market including competitors’ pricing and then sets a price based on what the market is expecting. With this pricing strategy, you can either set your price at the low-end or high-end of the market.
  • Value Pricing: This pricing strategy involves setting a price based on the value you are providing to your customer. When adopting a value-based pricing strategy, you have to set a price that your customers are willing to pay. Service-based businesses such as small business insurance providers , luxury goods sellers, and the fashion industry use this pricing strategy.

After carefully sorting out your positioning statement and pricing, the next item to look at is your promotional strategy. Your promotional strategy explains how you plan on communicating with your customers and prospects.

As a business, you must measure all your costs, including the cost of your promotions. You also want to measure how much sales your promotions bring for your business to determine its usefulness. Promotional strategies or programs that do not lead to profit need to be removed.

There are different types of promotional strategies you can adopt for your business, they include advertising, public relations, and content marketing.


Your business plan should include your advertising plan which can be found in the marketing and sales plan section. You need to include an overview of your advertising plans such as the areas you plan to spend money on to advertise your business and offers.

Ensure that you make it clear in this section if your business will be advertising online or using the more traditional offline media, or the combination of both online and offline media. You can also include the advertising medium you want to use to raise awareness about your business and offers.

Some common online advertising mediums you can use include social media ads, landing pages, sales pages, SEO, Pay-Per-Click, emails, Google Ads, and others. Some common traditional and offline advertising mediums include word of mouth, radios, direct mail, televisions, flyers, billboards, posters, and others.

A key component of your advertising strategy is how you plan to measure the effectiveness and success of your advertising campaign. There is no point in sticking with an advertising plan or medium that does not produce results for your business in the long run.

Public Relations

A great way to reach your customers is to get the media to cover your business or product. Publicity, especially good ones, should be a part of your marketing and sales plan. In this section, show your plans for getting prominent reviews of your product from reputable publications and sources.

Your business needs that exposure to grow. If public relations is a crucial part of your promotional strategy, provide details about your public relations plan here.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is a popular promotional strategy used by businesses to inform and attract their customers. It is about teaching and educating your prospects on various topics of interest in your niche, it does not just involve informing them about the benefits and features of the products and services you have,

The Benefits of Content Marketing

Businesses publish content usually for free where they provide useful information, tips, and advice so that their target market can be made aware of the importance of their products and services. Content marketing strategies seek to nurture prospects into buyers over time by simply providing value.

Your company can create a blog where it will be publishing content for its target market. You will need to use the best website builder such as Wix and Squarespace and the best web hosting services such as Bluehost, Hostinger, and other Bluehost alternatives to create a functional blog or website.

If content marketing is a crucial part of your promotional strategy (as it should be), detail your plans under promotions.

Including high-quality images of the packaging of your product in your business plan is a lovely idea. You can add the images of the packaging of that product in the marketing and sales plan section. If you are not selling a product, then you do not need to include any worry about the physical packaging of your product.

When organizing the packaging section of your business plan, you can answer the following questions to make maximum use of this section.

  • Is your choice of packaging consistent with your positioning strategy?
  • What key value proposition does your packaging communicate? (It should reflect the key value proposition of your business)
  • How does your packaging compare to that of your competitors?

Social Media

Your 21st-century business needs to have a good social media presence. Not having one is leaving out opportunities for growth and reaching out to your prospect.

You do not have to join the thousands of social media platforms out there. What you need to do is join the ones that your customers are active on and be active there.

Most popular social media platforms

Businesses use social media to provide information about their products such as promotions, discounts, the benefits of their products, and content on their blogs.

Social media is also a platform for engaging with your customers and getting feedback about your products or services. Make no mistake, more and more of your prospects are using social media channels to find more information about companies.

You need to consider the social media channels you want to prioritize your business (prioritize the ones your customers are active in) and your branding plans in this section.

Choosing the right social media platform

Strategic Alliances

If your company plans to work closely with other companies as part of your sales and marketing plan, include it in this section. Prove details about those partnerships in your business plan if you have already established them.

Strategic alliances can be beneficial for all parties involved including your company. Working closely with another company in the form of a partnership can provide access to a different target market segment for your company.

The company you are partnering with may also gain access to your target market or simply offer a new product or service (that of your company) to its customers.

Mutually beneficial partnerships can cover the weaknesses of one company with the strength of another. You should consider strategic alliances with companies that sell complimentary products to yours. For example, if you provide printers, you can partner with a company that produces ink since the customers that buy printers from you will also need inks for printing.

Steps Involved in Creating a Marketing and Sales Plan

1. Focus on Your Target Market

Identify who your customers are, the market you want to target. Then determine the best ways to get your products or services to your potential customers.

2. Evaluate Your Competition

One of the goals of having a marketing plan is to distinguish yourself from your competition. You cannot stand out from them without first knowing them in and out.

You can know your competitors by gathering information about their products, pricing, service, and advertising campaigns.

These questions can help you know your competition.

  • What makes your competition successful?
  • What are their weaknesses?
  • What are customers saying about your competition?

3. Consider Your Brand

Customers' perception of your brand has a strong impact on your sales. Your marketing and sales plan should seek to bolster the image of your brand. Before you start marketing your business, think about the message you want to pass across about your business and your products and services.

4. Focus on Benefits

The majority of your customers do not view your product in terms of features, what they want to know is the benefits and solutions your product offers. Think about the problems your product solves and the benefits it delivers, and use it to create the right sales and marketing message.

Your marketing plan should focus on what you want your customer to get instead of what you provide. Identify those benefits in your marketing and sales plan.

5. Focus on Differentiation

Your marketing and sales plan should look for a unique angle they can take that differentiates your business from the competition, even if the products offered are similar. Some good areas of differentiation you can use are your benefits, pricing, and features.

Key Questions to Answer When Writing Your Marketing and Sales Plan

  • What is your company’s budget for sales and marketing campaigns?
  • What key metrics will you use to determine if your marketing plans are successful?
  • What are your alternatives if your initial marketing efforts do not succeed?
  • Who are the sales representatives you need to promote your products or services?
  • What are the marketing and sales channels you plan to use? How do you plan to get your products in front of your ideal customers?
  • Where will you sell your products?

You may want to include samples of marketing materials you plan to use such as print ads, website descriptions, and social media ads. While it is not compulsory to include these samples, it can help you better communicate your marketing and sales plan and objectives.

The purpose of the marketing and sales section is to answer this question “How will you reach your customers?” If you cannot convincingly provide an answer to this question, you need to rework your marketing and sales section.

7. Clearly Show Your Funding Request

If you are writing your business plan to ask for funding from investors or financial institutions, the funding request section is where you will outline your funding requirements. The funding request section should answer the question ‘How much money will your business need in the near future (3 to 5 years)?’

A good funding request section will clearly outline and explain the amount of funding your business needs over the next five years. You need to know the amount of money your business needs to make an accurate funding request.

Also, when writing your funding request, provide details of how the funds will be used over the period. Specify if you want to use the funds to buy raw materials or machinery, pay salaries, pay for advertisements, and cover specific bills such as rent and electricity.

In addition to explaining what you want to use the funds requested for, you need to clearly state the projected return on investment (ROI) . Investors and creditors want to know if your business can generate profit for them if they put funds into it.

Ensure you do not inflate the figures and stay as realistic as possible. Investors and financial institutions you are seeking funds from will do their research before investing money in your business.

If you are not sure of an exact number to request from, you can use some range of numbers as rough estimates. Add a best-case scenario and a work-case scenario to your funding request. Also, include a description of your strategic future financial plans such as selling your business or paying off debts.

Funding Request: Debt or Equity?

When making your funding request, specify the type of funding you want. Do you want debt or equity? Draw out the terms that will be applicable for the funding, and the length of time the funding request will cover.

Case for Equity

If your new business has not yet started generating profits, you are most likely preparing to sell equity in your business to raise capital at the early stage. Equity here refers to ownership. In this case, you are selling a portion of your company to raise capital.

Although this method of raising capital for your business does not put your business in debt, keep in mind that an equity owner may expect to play a key role in company decisions even if he does not hold a major stake in the company.

Most equity sales for startups are usually private transactions . If you are making a funding request by offering equity in exchange for funding, let the investor know that they will be paid a dividend (a share of the company’s profit). Also, let the investor know the process for selling their equity in your business.

Case for Debt

You may decide not to offer equity in exchange for funds, instead, you make a funding request with the promise to pay back the money borrowed at the agreed time frame.

When making a funding request with an agreement to pay back, note that you will have to repay your creditors both the principal amount borrowed and the interest on it. Financial institutions offer this type of funding for businesses.

Large companies combine both equity and debt in their capital structure. When drafting your business plan, decide if you want to offer both or one over the other.

Before you sell equity in exchange for funding in your business, consider if you are willing to accept not being in total control of your business. Also, before you seek loans in your funding request section, ensure that the terms of repayment are favorable.

You should set a clear timeline in your funding request so that potential investors and creditors can know what you are expecting. Some investors and creditors may agree to your funding request and then delay payment for longer than 30 days, meanwhile, your business needs an immediate cash injection to operate efficiently.

Additional Tips for Writing the Funding Request Section of your Business Plan

The funding request section is not necessary for every business, it is only needed by businesses who plan to use their business plan to secure funding.

If you are adding the funding request section to your business plan, provide an itemized summary of how you plan to use the funds requested. Hiring a lawyer, accountant, or other professionals may be necessary for the proper development of this section.

You should also gather and use financial statements that add credibility and support to your funding requests. Ensure that the financial statements you use should include your projected financial data such as projected cash flows, forecast statements, and expenditure budgets.

If you are an existing business, include all historical financial statements such as cash flow statements, balance sheets and income statements .

Provide monthly and quarterly financial statements for a year. If your business has records that date back beyond the one-year mark, add the yearly statements of those years. These documents are for the appendix section of your business plan.

8. Detail Your Financial Plan, Metrics, and Projections

If you used the funding request section in your business plan, supplement it with a financial plan, metrics, and projections. This section paints a picture of the past performance of your business and then goes ahead to make an informed projection about its future.

The goal of this section is to convince readers that your business is going to be a financial success. It outlines your business plan to generate enough profit to repay the loan (with interest if applicable) and to generate a decent return on investment for investors.

If you have an existing business already in operation, use this section to demonstrate stability through finance. This section should include your cash flow statements, balance sheets, and income statements covering the last three to five years. If your business has some acceptable collateral that you can use to acquire loans, list it in the financial plan, metrics, and projection section.

Apart from current financial statements, this section should also contain a prospective financial outlook that spans the next five years. Include forecasted income statements, cash flow statements, balance sheets, and capital expenditure budget.

If your business is new and is not yet generating profit, use clear and realistic projections to show the potentials of your business.

When drafting this section, research industry norms and the performance of comparable businesses. Your financial projections should cover at least five years. State the logic behind your financial projections. Remember you can always make adjustments to this section as the variables change.

The financial plan, metrics, and projection section create a baseline which your business can either exceed or fail to reach. If your business fails to reach your projections in this section, you need to understand why it failed.

Investors and loan managers spend a lot of time going through the financial plan, metrics, and projection section compared to other parts of the business plan. Ensure you spend time creating credible financial analyses for your business in this section.

Many entrepreneurs find this section daunting to write. You do not need a business degree to create a solid financial forecast for your business. Business finances, especially for startups, are not as complicated as they seem. There are several online tools and templates that make writing this section so much easier.

Use Graphs and Charts

The financial plan, metrics, and projection section is a great place to use graphs and charts to tell the financial story of your business. Charts and images make it easier to communicate your finances.

Accuracy in this section is key, ensure you carefully analyze your past financial statements properly before making financial projects.

Address the Risk Factors and Show Realistic Financial Projections

Keep your financial plan, metrics, and projection realistic. It is okay to be optimistic in your financial projection, however, you have to justify it.

You should also address the various risk factors associated with your business in this section. Investors want to know the potential risks involved, show them. You should also show your plans for mitigating those risks.

What You Should In The Financial Plan, Metrics, and Projection Section of Your Business Plan

The financial plan, metrics, and projection section of your business plan should have monthly sales and revenue forecasts for the first year. It should also include annual projections that cover 3 to 5 years.

A three-year projection is a basic requirement to have in your business plan. However, some investors may request a five-year forecast.

Your business plan should include the following financial statements: sales forecast, personnel plan, income statement, income statement, cash flow statement, balance sheet, and an exit strategy.

1. Sales Forecast

Sales forecast refers to your projections about the number of sales your business is going to record over the next few years. It is typically broken into several rows, with each row assigned to a core product or service that your business is offering.

One common mistake people make in their business plan is to break down the sales forecast section into long details. A sales forecast should forecast the high-level details.

For example, if you are forecasting sales for a payroll software provider, you could break down your forecast into target market segments or subscription categories.

Benefits of Sales Forecasting

Your sales forecast section should also have a corresponding row for each sales row to cover the direct cost or Cost of Goods Sold (COGS). The objective of these rows is to show the expenses that your business incurs in making and delivering your product or service.

Note that your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) should only cover those direct costs incurred when making your products. Other indirect expenses such as insurance, salaries, payroll tax, and rent should not be included.

For example, the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) for a restaurant is the cost of ingredients while for a consulting company it will be the cost of paper and other presentation materials.

Factors that affect sales forecasting

2. Personnel Plan

The personnel plan section is where you provide details about the payment plan for your employees. For a small business, you can easily list every position in your company and how much you plan to pay in the personnel plan.

However, for larger businesses, you have to break the personnel plan into functional groups such as sales and marketing.

The personnel plan will also include the cost of an employee beyond salary, commonly referred to as the employee burden. These costs include insurance, payroll taxes , and other essential costs incurred monthly as a result of having employees on your payroll.

True HR Cost Infographic

3. Income Statement

The income statement section shows if your business is making a profit or taking a loss. Another name for the income statement is the profit and loss (P&L). It takes data from your sales forecast and personnel plan and adds other ongoing expenses you incur while running your business.

The income statement section

Every business plan should have an income statement. It subtracts your business expenses from its earnings to show if your business is generating profit or incurring losses.

The income statement has the following items: sales, Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), gross margin, operating expenses, total operating expenses, operating income , total expenses, and net profit.

  • Sales refer to the revenue your business generates from selling its products or services. Other names for sales are income or revenue.
  • Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) refers to the total cost of selling your products. Other names for COGS are direct costs or cost of sales. Manufacturing businesses use the Costs of Goods Manufactured (COGM) .
  • Gross Margin is the figure you get when you subtract your COGS from your sales. In your income statement, you can express it as a percentage of total sales (Gross margin / Sales = Gross Margin Percent).
  • Operating Expenses refer to all the expenses you incur from running your business. It exempts the COGS because it stands alone as a core part of your income statement. You also have to exclude taxes, depreciation, and amortization. Your operating expenses include salaries, marketing expenses, research and development (R&D) expenses, and other expenses.
  • Total Operating Expenses refers to the sum of all your operating expenses including those exemptions named above under operating expenses.
  • Operating Income refers to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. It is simply known as the acronym EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). Calculating your operating income is simple, all you need to do is to subtract your COGS and total operating expenses from your sales.
  • Total Expenses refer to the sum of your operating expenses and your business’ interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.
  • Net profit shows whether your business has made a profit or taken a loss during a given timeframe.

4. Cash Flow Statement

The cash flow statement tracks the money you have in the bank at any given point. It is often confused with the income statement or the profit and loss statement. They are both different types of financial statements. The income statement calculates your profits and losses while the cash flow statement shows you how much you have in the bank.

Cash Flow Statement Example

5. Balance Sheet

The balance sheet is a financial statement that provides an overview of the financial health of your business. It contains information about the assets and liabilities of your company, and owner’s or shareholders’ equity.

You can get the net worth of your company by subtracting your company’s liabilities from its assets.

Balance sheet Formula

6. Exit Strategy

The exit strategy refers to a probable plan for selling your business either to the public in an IPO or to another company. It is the last thing you include in the financial plan, metrics, and projection section.

You can choose to omit the exit strategy from your business plan if you plan to maintain full ownership of your business and do not plan on seeking angel investment or virtual capitalist (VC) funding.

Investors may want to know what your exit plan is. They invest in your business to get a good return on investment.

Your exit strategy does not have to include long and boring details. Ensure you identify some interested parties who may be interested in buying the company if it becomes a success.

Exit Strategy Section of Business Plan Infographic

Key Questions to Answer with Your Financial Plan, Metrics, and Projection

Your financial plan, metrics, and projection section helps investors, creditors, or your internal managers to understand what your expenses are, the amount of cash you need, and what it takes to make your company profitable. It also shows what you will be doing with any funding.

You do not need to show actual financial data if you do not have one. Adding forecasts and projections to your financial statements is added proof that your strategy is feasible and shows investors you have planned properly.

Here are some key questions to answer to help you develop this section.

  • What is your sales forecast for the next year?
  • When will your company achieve a positive cash flow?
  • What are the core expenses you need to operate?
  • How much money do you need upfront to operate or grow your company?
  • How will you use the loans or investments?

9. Add an Appendix to Your Business Plan

Adding an appendix to your business plan is optional. It is a useful place to put any charts, tables, legal notes, definitions, permits, résumés, and other critical information that do not fit into other sections of your business plan.

The appendix section is where you would want to include details of a patent or patent-pending if you have one. You can always add illustrations or images of your products here. It is the last section of your business plan.

When writing your business plan, there are details you cut short or remove to prevent the entire section from becoming too lengthy. There are also details you want to include in the business plan but are not a good fit for any of the previous sections. You can add that additional information to the appendix section.

Businesses also use the appendix section to include supporting documents or other materials specially requested by investors or lenders.

You can include just about any information that supports the assumptions and statements you made in the business plan under the appendix. It is the one place in the business plan where unrelated data and information can coexist amicably.

If your appendix section is lengthy, try organizing it by adding a table of contents at the beginning of the appendix section. It is also advisable to group similar information to make it easier for the reader to access them.

A well-organized appendix section makes it easier to share your information clearly and concisely. Add footnotes throughout the rest of the business plan or make references in the plan to the documents in the appendix.

The appendix section is usually only necessary if you are seeking funding from investors or lenders, or hoping to attract partners.

People reading business plans do not want to spend time going through a heap of backup information, numbers, and charts. Keep these documents or information in the Appendix section in case the reader wants to dig deeper.

Common Items to Include in the Appendix Section of Your Business Plan

The appendix section includes documents that supplement or support the information or claims given in other sections of the business plans. Common items you can include in the appendix section include:

  • Additional data about the process of manufacturing or creation
  • Additional description of products or services such as product schematics
  • Additional financial documents or projections
  • Articles of incorporation and status
  • Backup for market research or competitive analysis
  • Bank statements
  • Business registries
  • Client testimonials (if your business is already running)
  • Copies of insurances
  • Credit histories (personal or/and business)
  • Deeds and permits
  • Equipment leases
  • Examples of marketing and advertising collateral
  • Industry associations and memberships
  • Images of product
  • Intellectual property
  • Key customer contracts
  • Legal documents and other contracts
  • Letters of reference
  • Links to references
  • Market research data
  • Organizational charts
  • Photographs of potential facilities
  • Professional licenses pertaining to your legal structure or type of business
  • Purchase orders
  • Resumes of the founder(s) and key managers
  • State and federal identification numbers or codes
  • Trademarks or patents’ registrations

Avoid using the appendix section as a place to dump any document or information you feel like adding. Only add documents or information that you support or increase the credibility of your business plan.

Tips and Strategies for Writing a Convincing Business Plan

To achieve a perfect business plan, you need to consider some key tips and strategies. These tips will raise the efficiency of your business plan above average.

1. Know Your Audience

When writing a business plan, you need to know your audience . Business owners write business plans for different reasons. Your business plan has to be specific. For example, you can write business plans to potential investors, banks, and even fellow board members of the company.

The audience you are writing to determines the structure of the business plan. As a business owner, you have to know your audience. Not everyone will be your audience. Knowing your audience will help you to narrow the scope of your business plan.

Consider what your audience wants to see in your projects, the likely questions they might ask, and what interests them.

  • A business plan used to address a company's board members will center on its employment schemes, internal affairs, projects, stakeholders, etc.
  • A business plan for financial institutions will talk about the size of your market and the chances for you to pay back any loans you demand.
  • A business plan for investors will show proof that you can return the investment capital within a specific time. In addition, it discusses your financial projections, tractions, and market size.

2. Get Inspiration from People

Writing a business plan from scratch as an entrepreneur can be daunting. That is why you need the right inspiration to push you to write one. You can gain inspiration from the successful business plans of other businesses. Look at their business plans, the style they use, the structure of the project, etc.

To make your business plan easier to create, search companies related to your business to get an exact copy of what you need to create an effective business plan. You can also make references while citing examples in your business plans.

When drafting your business plan, get as much help from others as you possibly can. By getting inspiration from people, you can create something better than what they have.

3. Avoid Being Over Optimistic

Many business owners make use of strong adjectives to qualify their content. One of the big mistakes entrepreneurs make when preparing a business plan is promising too much.

The use of superlatives and over-optimistic claims can prepare the audience for more than you can offer. In the end, you disappoint the confidence they have in you.

In most cases, the best option is to be realistic with your claims and statistics. Most of the investors can sense a bit of incompetency from the overuse of superlatives. As a new entrepreneur, do not be tempted to over-promise to get the interests of investors.

The concept of entrepreneurship centers on risks, nothing is certain when you make future analyses. What separates the best is the ability to do careful research and work towards achieving that, not promising more than you can achieve.

To make an excellent first impression as an entrepreneur, replace superlatives with compelling data-driven content. In this way, you are more specific than someone promising a huge ROI from an investment.

4. Keep it Simple and Short

When writing business plans, ensure you keep them simple throughout. Irrespective of the purpose of the business plan, your goal is to convince the audience.

One way to achieve this goal is to make them understand your proposal. Therefore, it would be best if you avoid the use of complex grammar to express yourself. It would be a huge turn-off if the people you want to convince are not familiar with your use of words.

Another thing to note is the length of your business plan. It would be best if you made it as brief as possible.

You hardly see investors or agencies that read through an extremely long document. In that case, if your first few pages can’t convince them, then you have lost it. The more pages you write, the higher the chances of you derailing from the essential contents.

To ensure your business plan has a high conversion rate, you need to dispose of every unnecessary information. For example, if you have a strategy that you are not sure of, it would be best to leave it out of the plan.

5. Make an Outline and Follow Through

A perfect business plan must have touched every part needed to convince the audience. Business owners get easily tempted to concentrate more on their products than on other sections. Doing this can be detrimental to the efficiency of the business plan.

For example, imagine you talking about a product but omitting or providing very little information about the target audience. You will leave your clients confused.

To ensure that your business plan communicates your full business model to readers, you have to input all the necessary information in it. One of the best ways to achieve this is to design a structure and stick to it.

This structure is what guides you throughout the writing. To make your work easier, you can assign an estimated word count or page limit to every section to avoid making it too bulky for easy reading. As a guide, the necessary things your business plan must contain are:

  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Product or service description
  • Target audience
  • Market size
  • Competition analysis
  • Financial projections

Some specific businesses can include some other essential sections, but these are the key sections that must be in every business plan.

6. Ask a Professional to Proofread

When writing a business plan, you must tie all loose ends to get a perfect result. When you are done with writing, call a professional to go through the document for you. You are bound to make mistakes, and the way to correct them is to get external help.

You should get a professional in your field who can relate to every section of your business plan. It would be easier for the professional to notice the inner flaws in the document than an editor with no knowledge of your business.

In addition to getting a professional to proofread, get an editor to proofread and edit your document. The editor will help you identify grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and inappropriate writing styles.

Writing a business plan can be daunting, but you can surmount that obstacle and get the best out of it with these tips.

Business Plan Examples and Templates That’ll Save You Tons of Time

1. hubspot's one-page business plan.

HubSpot's One Page Business Plan

The one-page business plan template by HubSpot is the perfect guide for businesses of any size, irrespective of their business strategy. Although the template is condensed into a page, your final business plan should not be a page long! The template is designed to ask helpful questions that can help you develop your business plan.

Hubspot’s one-page business plan template is divided into nine fields:

  • Business opportunity
  • Company description
  • Industry analysis
  • Target market
  • Implementation timeline
  • Marketing plan
  • Financial summary
  • Funding required

2. Bplan’s Free Business Plan Template

Bplan’s Free Business Plan Template

Bplans' free business plan template is investor-approved. It is a rich template used by prestigious educational institutions such as Babson College and Princeton University to teach entrepreneurs how to create a business plan.

The template has six sections: the executive summary, opportunity, execution, company, financial plan, and appendix. There is a step-by-step guide for writing every little detail in the business plan. Follow the instructions each step of the way and you will create a business plan that impresses investors or lenders easily.

3. HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

HubSpot’s downloadable business plan template is a more comprehensive option compared to the one-page business template by HubSpot. This free and downloadable business plan template is designed for entrepreneurs.

The template is a comprehensive guide and checklist for business owners just starting their businesses. It tells you everything you need to fill in each section of the business plan and how to do it.

There are nine sections in this business plan template: an executive summary, company and business description, product and services line, market analysis, marketing plan, sales plan, legal notes, financial considerations, and appendix.

4. Business Plan by My Own Business Institute

The Business Profile

My Own Business Institute (MOBI) which is a part of Santa Clara University's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship offers a free business plan template. You can either copy the free business template from the link provided above or download it as a Word document.

The comprehensive template consists of a whopping 15 sections.

  • The Business Profile
  • The Vision and the People
  • Home-Based Business and Freelance Business Opportunities
  • Organization
  • Licenses and Permits
  • Business Insurance
  • Communication Tools
  • Acquisitions
  • Location and Leasing
  • Accounting and Cash Flow
  • Opening and Marketing
  • Managing Employees
  • Expanding and Handling Problems

There are lots of helpful tips on how to fill each section in the free business plan template by MOBI.

5. Score's Business Plan Template for Startups

Score's Business Plan Template for Startups

Score is an American nonprofit organization that helps entrepreneurs build successful companies. This business plan template for startups by Score is available for free download. The business plan template asks a whooping 150 generic questions that help entrepreneurs from different fields to set up the perfect business plan.

The business plan template for startups contains clear instructions and worksheets, all you have to do is answer the questions and fill the worksheets.

There are nine sections in the business plan template: executive summary, company description, products and services, marketing plan, operational plan, management and organization, startup expenses and capitalization, financial plan, and appendices.

The ‘refining the plan’ resource contains instructions that help you modify your business plan to suit your specific needs, industry, and target audience. After you have completed Score’s business plan template, you can work with a SCORE mentor for expert advice in business planning.

6. Minimalist Architecture Business Plan Template by Venngage

Minimalist Architecture Business Plan Template by Venngage

The minimalist architecture business plan template is a simple template by Venngage that you can customize to suit your business needs .

There are five sections in the template: an executive summary, statement of problem, approach and methodology, qualifications, and schedule and benchmark. The business plan template has instructions that guide users on what to fill in each section.

7. Small Business Administration Free Business Plan Template

Small Business Administration Free Business Plan Template

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers two free business plan templates, filled with practical real-life examples that you can model to create your business plan. Both free business plan templates are written by fictional business owners: Rebecca who owns a consulting firm, and Andrew who owns a toy company.

There are five sections in the two SBA’s free business plan templates.

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Service Line
  • Marketing and Sales

8. The $100 Startup's One-Page Business Plan

The $100 Startup's One Page Business Plan

The one-page business plan by the $100 startup is a simple business plan template for entrepreneurs who do not want to create a long and complicated plan . You can include more details in the appendices for funders who want more information beyond what you can put in the one-page business plan.

There are five sections in the one-page business plan such as overview, ka-ching, hustling, success, and obstacles or challenges or open questions. You can answer all the questions using one or two sentences.

9. PandaDoc’s Free Business Plan Template

PandaDoc’s Free Business Plan Template

The free business plan template by PandaDoc is a comprehensive 15-page document that describes the information you should include in every section.

There are 11 sections in PandaDoc’s free business plan template.

  • Executive summary
  • Business description
  • Products and services
  • Operations plan
  • Management organization
  • Financial plan
  • Conclusion / Call to action
  • Confidentiality statement

You have to sign up for its 14-day free trial to access the template. You will find different business plan templates on PandaDoc once you sign up (including templates for general businesses and specific businesses such as bakeries, startups, restaurants, salons, hotels, and coffee shops)

PandaDoc allows you to customize its business plan templates to fit the needs of your business. After editing the template, you can send it to interested parties and track opens and views through PandaDoc.

10. Invoiceberry Templates for Word, Open Office, Excel, or PPT

Invoiceberry Templates Business Concept

InvoiceBerry is a U.K based online invoicing and tracking platform that offers free business plan templates in .docx, .odt, .xlsx, and .pptx formats for freelancers and small businesses.

Before you can download the free business plan template, it will ask you to give it your email address. After you complete the little task, it will send the download link to your inbox for you to download. It also provides a business plan checklist in .xlsx file format that ensures you add the right information to the business plan.

Alternatives to the Traditional Business Plan

A business plan is very important in mapping out how one expects their business to grow over a set number of years, particularly when they need external investment in their business. However, many investors do not have the time to watch you present your business plan. It is a long and boring read.

Luckily, there are three alternatives to the traditional business plan (the Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas, and Startup Pitch Deck). These alternatives are less laborious and easier and quicker to present to investors.

Business Model Canvas (BMC)

The business model canvas is a business tool used to present all the important components of setting up a business, such as customers, route to market, value proposition, and finance in a single sheet. It provides a very focused blueprint that defines your business initially which you can later expand on if needed.

Business Model Canvas (BMC) Infographic

The sheet is divided mainly into company, industry, and consumer models that are interconnected in how they find problems and proffer solutions.

Segments of the Business Model Canvas

The business model canvas was developed by founder Alexander Osterwalder to answer important business questions. It contains nine segments.

Segments of the Business Model Canvas

  • Key Partners: Who will be occupying important executive positions in your business? What do they bring to the table? Will there be a third party involved with the company?
  • Key Activities: What important activities will production entail? What activities will be carried out to ensure the smooth running of the company?
  • The Product’s Value Propositions: What does your product do? How will it be different from other products?
  • Customer Segments: What demography of consumers are you targeting? What are the habits of these consumers? Who are the MVPs of your target consumers?
  • Customer Relationships: How will the team support and work with its customer base? How do you intend to build and maintain trust with the customer?
  • Key Resources: What type of personnel and tools will be needed? What size of the budget will they need access to?
  • Channels: How do you plan to create awareness of your products? How do you intend to transport your product to the customer?
  • Cost Structure: What is the estimated cost of production? How much will distribution cost?
  • Revenue Streams: For what value are customers willing to pay? How do they prefer to pay for the product? Are there any external revenues attached apart from the main source? How do the revenue streams contribute to the overall revenue?

Lean Canvas

The lean canvas is a problem-oriented alternative to the standard business model canvas. It was proposed by Ash Maurya, creator of Lean Stack as a development of the business model generation. It uses a more problem-focused approach and it majorly targets entrepreneurs and startup businesses.

The lean canvas is a problem oriented alternative to the standard business model canvas

Lean Canvas uses the same 9 blocks concept as the business model canvas, however, they have been modified slightly to suit the needs and purpose of a small startup. The key partners, key activities, customer relationships, and key resources are replaced by new segments which are:

  • Problem: Simple and straightforward number of problems you have identified, ideally three.
  • Solution: The solutions to each problem.
  • Unfair Advantage: Something you possess that can't be easily bought or replicated.
  • Key Metrics: Important numbers that will tell how your business is doing.

Startup Pitch Deck

While the business model canvas compresses into a factual sheet, startup pitch decks expand flamboyantly.

Pitch decks, through slides, convey your business plan, often through graphs and images used to emphasize estimations and observations in your presentation. Entrepreneurs often use pitch decks to fully convince their target audience of their plans before discussing funding arrangements.

Startup Pitch Deck Presentation

Considering the likelihood of it being used in a small time frame, a good startup pitch deck should ideally contain 20 slides or less to have enough time to answer questions from the audience.

Unlike the standard and lean business model canvases, a pitch deck doesn't have a set template on how to present your business plan but there are still important components to it. These components often mirror those of the business model canvas except that they are in slide form and contain more details.

Airbnb Pitch Deck

Using Airbnb (one of the most successful start-ups in recent history) for reference, the important components of a good slide are listed below.

  • Cover/Introduction Slide: Here, you should include your company's name and mission statement. Your mission statement should be a very catchy tagline. Also, include personal information and contact details to provide an easy link for potential investors.
  • Problem Slide: This slide requires you to create a connection with the audience or the investor that you are pitching. For example in their pitch, Airbnb summarized the most important problems it would solve in three brief points – pricing of hotels, disconnection from city culture, and connection problems for local bookings.
  • Solution Slide: This slide includes your core value proposition. List simple and direct solutions to the problems you have mentioned
  • Customer Analysis: Here you will provide information on the customers you will be offering your service to. The identity of your customers plays an important part in fundraising as well as the long-run viability of the business.
  • Market Validation: Use competitive analysis to show numbers that prove the presence of a market for your product, industry behavior in the present and the long run, as well as the percentage of the market you aim to attract. It shows that you understand your competitors and customers and convinces investors of the opportunities presented in the market.
  • Business Model: Your business model is the hook of your presentation. It may vary in complexity but it should generally include a pricing system informed by your market analysis. The goal of the slide is to confirm your business model is easy to implement.
  • Marketing Strategy: This slide should summarize a few customer acquisition methods that you plan to use to grow the business.
  • Competitive Advantage: What this slide will do is provide information on what will set you apart and make you a more attractive option to customers. It could be the possession of technology that is not widely known in the market.
  • Team Slide: Here you will give a brief description of your team. Include your key management personnel here and their specific roles in the company. Include their educational background, job history, and skillsets. Also, talk about their accomplishments in their careers so far to build investors' confidence in members of your team.
  • Traction Slide: This validates the company’s business model by showing growth through early sales and support. The slide aims to reduce any lingering fears in potential investors by showing realistic periodic milestones and profit margins. It can include current sales, growth, valuable customers, pre-orders, or data from surveys outlining current consumer interest.
  • Funding Slide: This slide is popularly referred to as ‘the ask'. Here you will include important details like how much is needed to get your business off the ground and how the funding will be spent to help the company reach its goals.
  • Appendix Slides: Your pitch deck appendix should always be included alongside a standard pitch presentation. It consists of additional slides you could not show in the pitch deck but you need to complement your presentation.

It is important to support your calculations with pictorial renditions. Infographics, such as pie charts or bar graphs, will be more effective in presenting the information than just listing numbers. For example, a six-month graph that shows rising profit margins will easily look more impressive than merely writing it.

Lastly, since a pitch deck is primarily used to secure meetings and you may be sharing your pitch with several investors, it is advisable to keep a separate public version that doesn't include financials. Only disclose the one with projections once you have secured a link with an investor.

Advantages of the Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas, and Startup Pitch Deck over the Traditional Business Plan

  • Time-Saving: Writing a detailed traditional business plan could take weeks or months. On the other hand, all three alternatives can be done in a few days or even one night of brainstorming if you have a comprehensive understanding of your business.
  • Easier to Understand: Since the information presented is almost entirely factual, it puts focus on what is most important in running the business. They cut away the excess pages of fillers in a traditional business plan and allow investors to see what is driving the business and what is getting in the way.
  • Easy to Update: Businesses typically present their business plans to many potential investors before they secure funding. What this means is that you may regularly have to amend your presentation to update statistics or adjust to audience-specific needs. For a traditional business plan, this could mean rewriting a whole section of your plan. For the three alternatives, updating is much easier because they are not voluminous.
  • Guide for a More In-depth Business Plan: All three alternatives have the added benefit of being able to double as a sketch of your business plan if the need to create one arises in the future.

Business Plan FAQ

Business plans are important for any entrepreneur who is looking for a framework to run their company over some time or seeking external support. Although they are essential for new businesses, every company should ideally have a business plan to track their growth from time to time.  They can be used by startups seeking investments or loans to convey their business ideas or an employee to convince his boss of the feasibility of starting a new project. They can also be used by companies seeking to recruit high-profile employee targets into key positions or trying to secure partnerships with other firms.

Business plans often vary depending on your target audience, the scope, and the goals for the plan. Startup plans are the most common among the different types of business plans.  A start-up plan is used by a new business to present all the necessary information to help get the business up and running. They are usually used by entrepreneurs who are seeking funding from investors or bank loans. The established company alternative to a start-up plan is a feasibility plan. A feasibility plan is often used by an established company looking for new business opportunities. They are used to show the upsides of creating a new product for a consumer base. Because the audience is usually company people, it requires less company analysis. The third type of business plan is the lean business plan. A lean business plan is a brief, straight-to-the-point breakdown of your ideas and analysis for your business. It does not contain details of your proposal and can be written on one page. Finally, you have the what-if plan. As it implies, a what-if plan is a preparation for the worst-case scenario. You must always be prepared for the possibility of your original plan being rejected. A good what-if plan will serve as a good plan B to the original.

A good business plan has 10 key components. They include an executive plan, product analysis, desired customer base, company analysis, industry analysis, marketing strategy, sales strategy, financial projection, funding, and appendix. Executive Plan Your business should begin with your executive plan. An executive plan will provide early insight into what you are planning to achieve with your business. It should include your mission statement and highlight some of the important points which you will explain later. Product Analysis The next component of your business plan is your product analysis. A key part of this section is explaining the type of item or service you are going to offer as well as the market problems your product will solve. Desired Consumer Base Your product analysis should be supplemented with a detailed breakdown of your desired consumer base. Investors are always interested in knowing the economic power of your market as well as potential MVP customers. Company Analysis The next component of your business plan is your company analysis. Here, you explain how you want to run your business. It will include your operational strategy, an insight into the workforce needed to keep the company running, and important executive positions. It will also provide a calculation of expected operational costs.  Industry Analysis A good business plan should also contain well laid out industry analysis. It is important to convince potential investors you know the companies you will be competing with, as well as your plans to gain an edge on the competition. Marketing Strategy Your business plan should also include your marketing strategy. This is how you intend to spread awareness of your product. It should include a detailed explanation of the company brand as well as your advertising methods. Sales Strategy Your sales strategy comes after the market strategy. Here you give an overview of your company's pricing strategy and how you aim to maximize profits. You can also explain how your prices will adapt to market behaviors. Financial Projection The financial projection is the next component of your business plan. It explains your company's expected running cost and revenue earned during the tenure of the business plan. Financial projection gives a clear idea of how your company will develop in the future. Funding The next component of your business plan is funding. You have to detail how much external investment you need to get your business idea off the ground here. Appendix The last component of your plan is the appendix. This is where you put licenses, graphs, or key information that does not fit in any of the other components.

The business model canvas is a business management tool used to quickly define your business idea and model. It is often used when investors need you to pitch your business idea during a brief window.

A pitch deck is similar to a business model canvas except that it makes use of slides in its presentation. A pitch is not primarily used to secure funding, rather its main purpose is to entice potential investors by selling a very optimistic outlook on the business.

Business plan competitions help you evaluate the strength of your business plan. By participating in business plan competitions, you are improving your experience. The experience provides you with a degree of validation while practicing important skills. The main motivation for entering into the competitions is often to secure funding by finishing in podium positions. There is also the chance that you may catch the eye of a casual observer outside of the competition. These competitions also provide good networking opportunities. You could meet mentors who will take a keen interest in guiding you in your business journey. You also have the opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs whose ideas can complement yours.

Exlore Further

  • 12 Key Elements of a Business Plan (Top Components Explained)
  • 13 Sources of Business Finance For Companies & Sole Traders
  • 5 Common Types of Business Structures (+ Pros & Cons)
  • How to Buy a Business in 8 Steps (+ Due Diligence Checklist)

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How To Create The Perfect Business Plan In 12 Steps

A business plan is a step-by-step guide that helps a business owner outline an idea and how to take it from concept to reality. It also includes financial projections, which help business owners plan for the future.

To create the perfect business plan template, you must first understand what components are essential to a successful business. Next, you must map how your company will function in the next five years and its financial goal. 

The next step is to take all of this information and present it in a clear, concise  timeline template  that can be used as a guide for your business. So, let's get started! Here are 12 steps on how to create the perfect business plan.

Table of Contents

What Is A Business Plan?

What Is A Business Plan.png

The traditional business plan is a written document that outlines an organisation's strategy and goals. It is a plan the company presents to investors and potential stakeholders who want to join them in the business venture. It provides a roadmap for how the organisation intends to achieve those goals and serves as the company's foundation.

A well-crafted business plan encompasses an executive summary, product or service overview, market analysis, competitive analysis, and financial projections. To ensure success, businesses create objectives around key performance indicators that are measurable, actionable, and aligned with the company's core values. 

Additionally, developing and adhering to concise action plans for meeting milestones can help companies keep on track from the project discovery phase  to reach their objectives promptly. In short, the purpose of a traditional business plan is to lay the foundation for the creation of any business enterprise.

Primary Purposes Of A Business Plan

A business plan helps keep businesses on track toward achieving their strategic goals in an agile manner while aligning them with changing customer preferences and emerging technologies. The primary purposes of business planning are:

  • First and foremost, it is a tool for decision-making for potential investors, lenders, and stakeholders. Essentially, the plan acts as a set of guidelines that provide insight into the key elements that define a newly established or existing business, such as policies, staffing needs, marketing efforts, objectives, financial allocations, etc.
  • It analyses entrepreneurs' overly optimistic assumptions regarding long-term strategies and future economic scenarios.
  • The plan is an incentive to constantly review these decisions and ensure they are up-to-date with current market trends .

12 Steps To Create The Perfect Business Plan

Every great business starts with a well-crafted plan. But what goes into a good business idea? Here are some key components:

1 – Chose A Business Plan Format 

Before creating a traditional business plan template, it's essential to consider the format most beneficial. There are two commonly used approaches: the simple business plan, aka lean startup business plan and the traditional one.

The lean startup business plan may be suitable for those businesses that need to make decisions quickly and take action without needing in-depth detail. On the other hand, traditional plans contain more comprehensive information on every aspect of your business, such as a specific description of products or services offered and detailed financial statements, which makes them ideal for presenting to potential investors. 

So, deciding which format is best for you can guide each step of your overall approach toward constructing an effective business plan template .

2 – Create An Executive Summary

Business Plan Template Executive Summary

Once you've researched and discovered vital components to creating a successful business plan, it is essential to summarise these elements to present an executive summary. This section provides an overview of your entire business plan and should include your company's mission statement, vision, values, goals, and objectives. It should also provide an overview of your team, products or services, target market, competitive landscape, and growth strategy.

Moreover, an executive summary highlights your business's specific goals and objectives and what will be necessary for their realisation. In addition, this short section is designed to emphasise any innovative approaches or solutions that make your plan stand out from the competition.

Furthermore, the executive summary should also include a brief overview of your financial projections. This allows potential investors or stakeholders to understand the benefits of supporting your venture. Once this part of your business plan template is complete, you can move on to other steps necessary for launching a successful enterprise.

3 – Include the Company Description

Creating a comprehensive business description is the third step to crafting the perfect business plan. This section should include key details about the company and what it does, such as:

  • Organisational structure
  • The legal form of ownership
  • Information about founders and key figures
  • Information about the founders
  • Mission and vision statement
  • Current status of your company in terms of revenues and employees
  • Financial investments that have been made to date
  • Listing of corporate goals and objectives
  • How your products or services differ from other businesses in its industry while also expressing what sets your product or service apart from competitors

Moreover, As staffing needs inevitably change over time, providing a headcount overview in the company description is an effective way of recording critical information for future business growth . Once you have included all relevant data in your company description, potential investors can make well-informed decisions based on their understanding of your business operations.

4 – Conduct A Market Analysis

What Is A Market Analysis

The next step in creating the perfect business plan template is to conduct a market analysis. This requires thoroughly examining the external factors that influence and shape a company. Such factors include the industry environment, competitors, customer preferences, and demographic and economic trends.

A target market analysis helps to determine a company's competitive edge to craft strategies that will allow it to stay ahead of its competitors. In addition, this step enables businesses to identify potential buyers whom they can target more effectively through their marketing campaigns . 

Ultimately, conducting an in-depth target market analysis ensures that companies can make well-informed decisions regarding developing their products and services.

5 – Evaluate Your Competition

In this critical section, you must evaluate your competition with B2B data lists and supporting research. And describe who your main competitors are in the space. This includes researching the direct and indirect competitors in the industry, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and analysing how they are positioned against each other.

This allows you to strategically differentiate your product or service from competitors to create an attractive value proposition for customers. Furthermore, by conducting competitor analysis regularly, businesses can stay informed of any changes in the marketplace and adjust their strategies accordingly. 

This will result in more innovative ways of positioning oneself competitively to attract potential customers and gain a competitive edge over rivals.

6 – Explain Your Service Or Product Line

Restaurant Marketing Usp Guide

This step is critical when preparing a plan as it gives potential investors, lenders, and customers all the necessary information about your company's offerings. In this section, you will describe your products or services, including features, benefits, value, and proposition. 

It should also include pricing information, if applicable. Clearly outline the product's features, pricing, relevant details, and any advantages your services offer over the competition.

A thorough explanation of each product line should also include all the necessary specifications, such as material costs, production methods, and expected timeline for completion. Furthermore, be sure to explain how each offering fits into the overall mission of your business, as well as why it will be beneficial in helping you achieve success.

7 – Describe Marketing And Sales Strategies

The next step in writing a business plan is thoroughly describing your product or service's marketing and sales strategies. You must explain who the target market is, what messages have been created for them, and how they will be delivered. 

Additionally, you need to show how sales will be managed, including forecasting sales, pricing strategies, and how you will service customers. Investing the time in detailing your marketing and sales strategies can make a huge difference in whether or not your business proposal receives the funding it needs. 

You must provide the following:

  • Thorough research.
  • Refined messaging and thoughtful price structures.
  • Plans for delivering exceptional customer service.

8 – Outline Funding Requirements

Constructing a perfect plan involves outlining the necessary funding requirements. Understanding the total amount of capital needed and the sources it could come from is vital. 

These may include investments from owners, directors, shareholders, and lenders, government-funded grants, or other forms of financial assistance. Knowing exactly which types of capital you need and where it should come from will make all the difference in evaluating your business plan's success. 

With detailed funding information specified in advance, you can be sure your perfect plan has considered every aspect of capital needs for the future.

9 – Create Financial Projections

Business Plans Financial Projection

Creating financial projections is easily the most challenging when you write a business plan. This step touches on a few different areas, including a balance sheet, profit and loss statement, and cash flow statement. 

Each of these can be daunting to compile, but measuring a business's success over time is imperative. To complete this step accurately, you must evaluate your organisation's current position financially and understand all potential future costs of goods sold and the variance between anticipated expenditures and actual expenses. 

Completing this step properly can give any plan holder excellent insight into how well your business operates throughout its lifespan.

10 – List Customer Segments

Identifying customer segments is an essential step in writing a perfect business plan. Differentiating customers into various segments allows for more focused and targeted marketing for each specific group. Additionally, it helps outline a product pricing structure that considers the different needs of each segment.

When segregating customer segments to create tailored solutions, it is also essential to consider geographic differentiation, distribution channels, and age demographics. All these efforts will prove vital for developing a successful business plan.

11 – Detail Operation Strategies

How To Create A Marketing Plan Outline

Creating detailed operation strategies before beginning is essential to ensure all components are complete. This step allows for identifying any possible discrepancies in the plan's layout. Additionally, this section includes delving into all financial aspects and knowing how the actions of specific departments impact others.

Companies should also remember that running a successful business relies on devising practical performance standards, procedures, and processes. To compile a comprehensive plan, you must closely examine all areas of your company's operations while creating an organised yet insightful structure. 

Proving all relevant data collected can support the outlined goals. Crafting these strategies carefully will achieve unparalleled success in various business endeavours or projects.

12 – Create An Appendix

Constructing an appendix for a business plan is a great way to supplement the data in the plan's body. In essence, an appendix serves as a helpful reference tool that will provide additional information that can be beneficial to understanding the complete picture. 

It's also essential for clarifying and corroborating any insights turned up throughout the research stages of developing a business plan. Commonly filed items in the appendix include organisational charts, licenses, resumes and biographies for crucial personnel, supporting documents such as letters of intent or reference, patents, and product specifications. 

Allowing more room for comprehensive study, including an appendix when writing a business plan, will make it stand out from competitors and potentially increase investors' interest level.

Avoid These Common Mistakes When Writing A Business Plan 

Writing a business plan is no small task. It requires time, research, and strategic planning to cover all the bases necessary for success. It would help if you got it right the first time with so much on the line.

To help you with writing, we've compiled a list of five common mistakes you should avoid when writing your business plan. 

Beware Of Boring Business Ideas

One of the most important aspects of any business plan is its concept. If your business idea is innovative and marketable, it will survive today's competitive landscape. 

Before investing too much time and energy into writing a plan, ensure your concept is unique and feasible and has the potential for long-term success. 

No Exit Strategy

You should include a well-thought-out exit strategy in every business plan. An exit strategy outlines how and when you intend to leave your business if things don't work out as planned. 

This could involve selling to another entrepreneur, liquidating your assets, and closing the shop. Whatever the case, having an exit strategy will save you from costly mistakes.

Inaccurate Financial Projections

Financial projections are a significant component of any successful business plan and must be taken seriously. If not done correctly, inaccurate financial projections can lead to unforeseen problems. 

Such as insufficient capitalisation or cash flow issues that could kill your project before it gets off the ground. To ensure accuracy in your projections, it's essential to consult with experienced professionals who specialise in this area before finalising anything in your plan.

Spelling And Grammar Errors

No matter how great an idea may be or how soundly constructed its financials are, spelling and grammar errors can immediately destroy its credibility. 

To avoid this pitfall, ensure all sections are thoroughly edited by yourself or an experienced editor before submitting them to potential investors or lenders.

Unbalanced Teams

The team behind any successful business is just as important as the idea itself. When forming your team to write a business plan, ensure everyone involved has skills and experience related to the project. 

This means filling roles such as marketing expert, financial analyst, operations manager, etc., depending on what kind of company you're starting up and its needs. 

Tips To Make A Standout Business Plan 

Business Plan Creator

As we know, a business plan is essential for any entrepreneur who wants to be successful in their venture. It outlines your goals, strategies, and resources to help you reach them.

The goal of a business plan should be to get potential investors interested in your project on board. And provide them with all the necessary information to make an informed decision. 

Writing a good business plan can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Here are practical tips to help you create a business plan that stands out from the rest: 

Know Your Audience

Before you start writing your business plan, you must understand your audience and what they expect from your business. 

Knowing this will help you tailor the content according to your plan so that it's geared toward the people reading it, making it more appealing and convincing.  

Have A Clear Goal

Having a clear goal will give your business plan a candid structure and ensure all aspects are focused on achieving that goal. 

It should clearly define what success looks like for you, whether it's getting funding or launching a new product line.

Invest Time In Research

Researching the industry, market trends, competitors, and potential partners is essential in creating an effective business plan. 

This research will help you make informed decisions and strategies throughout the process and ensure your plans are realistic and achievable based on current market conditions. 

Keep It Short & To The Point

Investors don't have time to read lengthy documents; they want concise information about why they should invest in your project quickly and easily. 

Keep things brief but still provide enough details for them to understand what makes your project unique and profitable. Make sure they remember you when considering potential investments.

Make It Easy To Read

Your business plan should be easily read with clear headings, section titles, and bulleted lists. 

It will ensure that they can quickly scan the document without reading through paragraphs of text, which can become tedious.

Keep Tone & Style Consistent

Consistency across both tone and style will help to keep them engaged. You don't want to confuse investors with conflicting styles throughout sections or pages.

So, use a consistent style and keep the tone formal. It will provide you with all the information they need quickly and effectively without getting distracted from critical points when reading your planning proposal.

Invest In Quality Design & Printing

A well-designed document with quality printing reflects professionalism, which can help build trust with investors. It will give the investors confidence that their money will be put to good use if they invest in projects like yours.

Use A Business Plan Software

Many software programs available online provide templates for creating professional-looking documents. As well as guidance on writing each section and including relevant financial information. They make it easier and faster than starting from scratch when creating an effective business plan. 

These programs also allow you access to editing capabilities at any point throughout the creation process, thus giving complete control over the final output before presenting the finished product. Venngage is wildly popular for providing useful templates to create your business plans with easy-to-use editors in no time. 

An effective business plan takes time, effort, research, planning, and design skills . Your business plan is a document that should grow and change as your business grows and changes. The most important parts of your business plan are your business goals and objectives. These are the foundation upon which you will build your research, company structure, marketing, and sales strategies. Keep these items in your mind as you develop your business plan.

Business Plans FAQs

What's the most important thing to consider when creating a business plan.

It would help if you always started with your purpose. You must figure out your purpose and why you are creating your business. Your business plan should answer these questions.

How do I write a business plan?

The first step to writing a business plan is to write down your purpose and goals. It would help if you decided who will be involved in your business and how you will operate.

How do I make sure my business plan is perfect?

You will want to write your business plan in the third person so it has a different voice than you. You also want to ensure that your business plan is easy to read.

What is the difference between a business plan and a mission statement?

A business plan is a document that describes your company, while a mission statement is a summary of what you stand for.

What should I include in my business plan?

You should include all of the information you have about your business. You should also include information about your company's history, employees, competitors, and plans.

What is the best way to get feedback on my business plan?

Getting feedback on your business plan from your lawyer, accountant, and other advisers would be best.

Is it possible to have too many goals in a business plan?

You may have too many goals, depending on how you plan to achieve them.

What should I consider when making decisions about a new business?

When starting a new business, you must consider your risk tolerance. It would be best to consider how much capital you have available.

How can I make my business plan more concise?

When writing your business plan, you can make it more concise by eliminating unnecessary information. You also can make your business plan more concise by using bullet points to summarise your information.

Author Bio:  Muhammad Aqeel is an experienced professional specialising in content creation. He has been working with Venngage Infographics, a leading graphic design platform. He is an expert in producing creative and engaging content on online tools and software.

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Make Your Business Plan Stand Out

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10 simple steps to writing a business plan, how to write a plan for starting your own e-commerce business, making a business plan: what 10 experts have to say about creating a winning plan, what differentiates a great business plan from an ordinary one.

Good business plans weave a story that is understandable, believable and makes sense to the reader.

All elements of the story must link together in a coherent way: If the marketing plan provides for a product launch event then the costs of that event must be evident in cash flow forecasts; if the sales forecast provides for a ramp up in sales in month four, then the marketing plan must provide something to spur that increase and the operations plan must provide for the increase in production in month three and four.

A great business plan is short, sharp and to the point. People who read business plans are usually busy and time pressured. You need to capture and hold their attention by including only what is relevant and will assist them in evaluating the proposal being put forward.

A great business plan has a very strong opening that captures the essence of the idea in a few paragraphs. Few people ever get past page two of a business plan so you need to make your point early and position the concept in such a way that the reader wants to go on.

How can a business plan assist in mitigating risk?

Writing a business plan forces the management team of a growing venture to come together and talk about where they are taking their business and how they plan to get there. Very often people in a fast-growing business have different ideas about the overall strategy of the business and therefore begin pulling in opposite directions.

Going through the task of writing a business plan compels the management team to align the different elements of an enterprise and to begin to work together to achieve a specified outcome.

Writing a business plan forces an entrepreneur to test whether reasonable assumptions translate into positive cash flow and, ultimately, profit. If an entrepreneur needs to adjust too many assumptions to create that, then you need to evaluate whether the new assumptions are reasonable. If you cannot achieve positive cash flow with reasonable assumptions, this highlights a major risk for the business. Such a risk will only come to the fore as a result of the pain of preparing a business plan.

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How to Make Your Business Stand Out These tips should help you to define exactly what your business offers, how that can serve the needs of your target market and how to build a niche for yourself.

Feb 13, 2015

This story originally appeared on Sageworks

Most businesses face steep competition; According to the US Small Business Administration, to be successful and break away from the pack, one of the first steps in your business development plan should be to determine your market and identify why they should give their business to you. Make sure that the market you are targeting is the best market for your product or service. To do this, you must identify the benefits that your business offers, and how your target market's needs are aligned with those benefits.

These tips should help you to define exactly what your business offers, how that can serve the needs of your target market and how to build a niche for yourself.

Make sure you know precisely what you have to offer

Beyond your actual product or service, what are you really selling ? For example, your city probably has a wide variety of restaurants and diners. They all sell food, but they do not all cater to the same people. Each is filling a slightly different need, and catering to a slightly different market.

Your local diner probably caters to people who want affordable, home-style meals, while the drive-through serves those on the go and the sit-down restaurant with tablecloths and candlesticks serves those looking for a more upscale dining experience. All three businesses serve hot meals, but the experience they offer varies greatly.

Make sure you understand not only your product or service, but how it fits the exact need your customers are looking for and how it compares with similar competition offering perhaps the same product or service with a different experience. What exactly separates you from the rest?

Don't be a jack of all trades

It is far better to do one thing with excellence than to do several things second-rate. To succeed in your market you must know precisely what you are offering and what makes you excellent. Divide your products or services into a few, manageable market niches . You can then offer specialized goods and services with expert knowledge delivery to your target market.

Identify your niche

It is important not only to understand what you are selling, but who you are selling to. To that end, creating and serving a niche market can be critical to your success as a small business. New business owners often tend to try to identify their niche markets through personal knowledge. But it can be incredibly worthwhile to conduct market research, and survey existing and potential customers to expose new and undiscovered customer needs. In the course of this research, be sure to identify:

  • What markets are already saturated with competitors
  • What markets do not receive attention from competitors
  • What markets generate the most potential for your business

For CFO's looking to help objectify this process, Sageworks' financial analysis suite takes financial data and quickly converts it into plain-language reports with industry comparisons, ratio analysis and trend analysis along with recommendations for improvement. The analytical solutions are designed to be intuitive and to make financial reports more accessible to non-financial colleagues.

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Business Plan Templates

Writing a business plan that will make your business stand out

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A business plan is an essential document that outlines the strategies and objectives of your business. It is an in-depth look at what you hope to achieve and how you plan to get there. By writing a business plan, you can think through all the potential risks and opportunities that may come along while running your business.

It is important to write a business plan that sets your business apart from the competition. Having a comprehensive, detailed plan that has thought out the short-term and long-term goals of your business is essential for success. It not only sets out the objectives that need to be achieved, but also provides a way to stay focused and remain on track. Additionally, a well-structured business plan will help you to secure the funding you need to get the ball rolling.

Identifying the Purpose of Your Business

As you are writing your business plan, you should start by identifying the purpose of your business. This should include outlining your vision and mission statements, as well as establishing goals and objectives. Knowing your purpose will help you make sure that the business plan you create will make your business stand out amongst the competition.

Outlining the Vision and Mission Statements

Creating your vision and mission statements will set the foundation for your overall plan. Your vision statement should be your long-term goal – what you envision for the company and its future. This should include things you want to do and achieve fore the business. Your mission statement should explain what you do currently, and how you will make your vision a reality.

Establishing Goals and Objectives

Once you have determined your vision and mission statements, you should then focus on creating goals and objectives. Goals should be tied to your overall mission statement – they should be focused, measurable, achievable, and of course, relevant. Objectives are the important milestones that will help you reach your goals. Setting measurable objectives will help you keep track of how your business is progressing and identify any areas that need improvement.

By establishing the purpose of your business, outlining your vision and mission statements, as well as setting goals and objectives, you will be in a better position to create a business plan that will make your business stand out.

Analyzing Your Industry

Having a solid understanding of your industry and the competition is key to creating a business plan that puts your business in a position to thrive. Knowing who your competitors are and what industry trends are can help you create actionable goals and identify opportunities that will present themselves throughout the life of your business.

Identifying and researching competitors

Identifying your competitors is the first step in understanding your industry. It's important to look at competitors who offer similar products or services and understand what makes their offering unique compared to yours. Researching your competitors will also help you understand their pricing, promotions, and target markets.

Analyzing your competition doesn't just apply to direct competitors—it's also important to consider companies that offer similar products and services that are not necessarily in your industry. Knowing what customers are looking for in a product or service can help you determine where your offering fits in the marketplace and identify any areas where you can improve your offering.

Understanding industry trends

Once you've identified your competitors, it's important to take a look at the industry trends in order to gain insights into how to best position your business. Identify and track the latest industry trends and be aware of any technological advancements, regulatory changes, and customer needs that may affect your business. Understanding these trends can help you craft a strategy that will stay ahead of the competition and increase your chance of success.

It's also important to keep up with industry news to stay informed on what other businesses are doing in the space. Tracking news about industry innovations, successes, and failures can provide valuable insights that can help you apply certain strategies and avoid mistakes.

Exploring Your Target Customer

In order to write a successful business plan, it is important to understand your target customer base. This section will focus on analyzing your target customer and their specific wants and needs.

Defining the Target Audience

Before you can begin to explore your target customer’s wants and needs, you need to clearly define who they are. Consider the following factors to better understand your target customer base:

  • Demographics, such as age, gender, occupation, and location
  • Psychographics, such as values, interests, lifestyle and behaviors
  • Purchasing habits, such as frequency, payment methods and amounts spent

Having a clear understanding of your target customer base is essential for developing a successful business plan that caters to their needs.

Examining Their Needs and Wants

Once you have a clear picture of your target customer base, it’s time to start exploring their needs and wants. Consider conducting market research to get better insights into what your target audience needs and wants. This can include surveys, interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, and analyzing competitor’s products and services.

This research can provide valuable insights that can be utilized to develop a business plan that meets their needs and stands out from the competition. Being able to offer what they want can increase your chances of success in the long run.

Crafting a Marketing Plan

A strong marketing plan is necessary for a successful business. It helps ensure that you get your message to the people who need it the most. Crafting a marketing plan is a critical part of business writing and should not be taken lightly.

Deciding on Pricing

Pricing is an essential part of any marketing plan. It’s important to understand the pricing strategy of your competitors and use them to your advantage. Decide on a pricing model that will differentiate your product or service and give customers a reason to choose you over your competitors. Consider offering discount deals, promotions, and other forms of value to incentivize customers to choose your product or service.

Creating Promotional Activities

Before beginning your promotional activities, it’s important to identify your target audience and how best to reach them. Depending on your target audience, promotional activities may include:

  • Creating a website or blog
  • Social media marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Creating promotional videos, ads, and/or images
  • Attending trade shows and events
  • Creating press releases

By creating a comprehensive and engaging marketing plan, you can help ensure that your business stands out from the competition.

Organizing the Financial Plan

Organizing the financial plan is the key to running a successful business. A good financial plan addresses how the business will meet both short-term and long-term financial goals. It should also include detailed information on the finances of the firm and help its owners understand the economics of the project. This section will discuss two essential elements of creating a solid financial plan – calculating the break-even point and developing an effective budget.

Calculating Break-even Point

The break-even point is a key financial tool for businesses, as it shows the point at which the firm has covered all its costs and started making a profit. This allows a business to understand their break-even volume and measure their success going forward. Calculating your break-even point involves understanding your fixed costs and variable costs, along with clearly defining the current market for your product or service.

Developing a Budget

Creating a budget is another essential element to ensure the ongoing success of your venture. A budget outlines the available resources, what they will be used for, and how they will be allocated. It also help to track spending and ensure that the business is operating within the financial limits of its resources. To create an effective budget, entrepreneurs should first determine their estimated revenues and expenses. This will help them identify the areas where they can save money and allocate the resources they need to run a successful business.

  • Analyse your current financial situation and identify areas where you can reduce costs.
  • Set short-term and long-term financial goals for the business.
  • Focus on controlling and reducing expenses.
  • Create detailed estimates for revenues and expenses.
  • Allocate the resources you have in an effective manner.
  • Monitor your budget regularly to ensure that you are meeting your goals.

Having a well-developed financial plan and budget is integral to the success of any business. By understanding their break-even point and developing an effective budget, entrepreneurs can ensure that their business is well-positioned to achieve financial success.

Writing a business plan is an essential step for any new business or business venture. A well-written business plan can help identify both known and unknown risk factors and will also enable you to communicate effectively with potential investors and other stakeholders. By following the steps above, entrepreneurs can ensure that their business plan will make their business stand out and put them in a better position to secure startup funding, gain visibility, and succeed.

Here are some tips for succeeding with a stand-out business plan:

  • Have a clear, achievable goal in mind when writing the plan
  • Be sure to include details such as financial projections and market analysis
  • Focus on the strengths and uniqueness of your business and products
  • Know your competition and differentiate yourself
  • Seek help and advice from professionals if needed
  • Update the business plan regularly to reflect changes in your company

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Chapter 8: Entrepreneurship

Reading: create your business plan, executive summary.

This written guide will help you create a business plan and map out how you will start and run your business successfully.

The executive summary is often considered the most important section of a business plan. This section briefly tells your reader where your company is, where you want to take it, and why your business idea will be successful. If you are seeking financing, the executive summary is also your first opportunity to grab a potential investor’s interest.

The executive summary should highlight the strengths of your overall plan and therefore be the last section you write. However, it usually appears first in your business plan document.

Below are several key points that your executive summary should include based on the stage of your business.

If You Are an Established Business

If you are an established business, be sure to include the following information:

  • The Mission Statement —This explains what your business is all about. It should be between several sentences and a paragraph.
  • Company Information —Include a short statement that covers when your business was formed, the names of the founders and their roles, your number of employees, and your business location(s).
  • Growth Highlights —Include examples of company growth, such as financial or market highlights (for example, “XYZ Firm increased profit margins and market share year-over-year since its foundation). Graphs and charts can be helpful in this section.
  • Your Products/Services —Briefly describe the products or services you provide.
  • Financial Information —If you are seeking financing, include any information about your current bank and investors.
  • Summarize future plans —Explain where you would like to take your business.

With the exception of the mission statement, all of the information in the executive summary should be covered in a concise fashion and kept to one page. The executive summary is the first part of your business plan many people will see, so each word should count.

If You Are a Startup or New Business

If you are just starting a business, you won’t have as much information as an established company. Instead, focus on your experience and background as well as the decisions that led you to start this particular enterprise.

Demonstrate that you have done thorough market analysis. Include information about a need or gap in your target market, and how your particular solutions can fill it. Convince the reader that you can succeed in your target market, then address your future plans.

Remember, your Executive Summary will be the last thing you write. So the first section of the business plan that you will tackle is the Company Description section.

Company Description

This section of your business plan provides a high-level review of the different elements of your business. This is akin to an extended elevator pitch and can help readers and potential investors quickly understand the goal of your business and its unique proposition.

What to Include in Your Company Description

  • Describe the nature of your business and list the marketplace needs that you are trying to satisfy.
  • Explain how your products and services meet these needs.
  • List the specific consumers, organizations or businesses that your company serves or will serve.
  • Explain the competitive advantages that you believe will make your business a success such as your location, expert personnel, efficient operations, or ability to bring value to your customers.

Next, you’ll need to move on to the Market Analysis section of your plan.

Market Analysis

The market analysis section of your business plan should illustrate your industry and market knowledge as well as any of your research findings and conclusions.

What to Include in Your Market Analysis

  • Industry Description and Outlook —Describe your industry, including its current size and historic growth rate as well as other trends and characteristics (e.g., life cycle stage, projected growth rate). Next, list the major customer groups within your industry.
  • Information About Your Target Market —Narrow your target market to a manageable size. Many businesses make the mistake of trying to appeal to too many target markets. Research and include the following information about your market:
  • Distinguishing Characteristics —What are the critical needs of your potential customers? Are those needs being met?  What are the demographics of the group and where are they located? Are there any seasonal or cyclical purchasing trends that may impact your business?
  • Size of the Primary Target Market —In addition to the size of your market, what data can you include about the annual purchases your market makes in your industry? What is the forecasted market growth for this group?
  • How Much Market Share Can You Gain? —What is the market share percentage and number of customers you expect to obtain in a defined geographic area? Explain the logic behind your calculation.
  • Pricing and Gross Margin Targets —Define your pricing structure, gross margin levels, and any discount that you plan to use.
  • When you include information about any of the market tests or research studies you have completed, be sure to focus only on the results of these tests. Any other details should be included in the appendix (which we will discuss later).
  • Market share
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • How important is your target market to your competitors?
  • Are there any barriers that may hinder you as you enter the market?
  • What is your window of opportunity to enter the market?
  • Are there any indirect or secondary competitors who may impact your success?
  • What barriers to market are there (e.g., changing technology, high investment cost, lack of quality personnel)?
  • Regulatory Restrictions —Include any customer or governmental regulatory requirements affecting your business, and how you’ll comply. Also, cite any operational or cost impact the compliance process will have on your business.

Once you’ve completed this section, you can move on to the Organization and Management section of your business plan.

Organization and Management

This section should include: your company’s organizational structure, details about the ownership of your company, profiles of your management team, and the qualifications of your board of directors.

Who does what in your business? What is their background and why are you bringing them into the business as board members or employees? What are they responsible for? These may seem like unnecessary questions to answer in a one- or two-person organization, but the people reading your business plan want to know who’s in charge, so tell them. Give a detailed description of each division or department and its function.

This section should include who’s on the board (if you have an advisory board) and how you intend to keep them there. What kind of salary and benefits package do you have for your people? What incentives are you offering? How about promotions? Reassure your reader that the people you have on staff are more than just names on a letterhead.

Organizational Structure

A simple but effective way to lay out the structure of your company is to create an organizational chart with a narrative description. This will prove that you’re leaving nothing to chance, you’ve thought out exactly who is doing what, and there is someone in charge of every function of your company. Nothing will fall through the cracks, and nothing will be done three or four times over. To a potential investor or employee, that is very important.

Ownership Information

This section should also include the legal structure of your business along with the subsequent ownership information it relates to. Have you incorporated your business? If so, is it a C or S corporation? Or perhaps you have formed a partnership with someone. If so, is it a general or limited partnership? Or maybe you are a sole proprietor.

The following important ownership information should be incorporated into your business plan:

  • Names of owners
  • Percentage ownership
  • Extent of involvement with the company
  • Forms of ownership (i.e., common stock, preferred stock, general partner, limited partner)
  • Outstanding equity equivalents (i.e., options, warrants, convertible debt)
  • Common stock (i.e., authorized or issued)
  • Management Profiles
  • Experts agree that one of the strongest factors for success in any growth company is the ability and track record of its owner/management team, so let your reader know about the key people in your company and their backgrounds. Provide resumes that include the following information:
  • Position (include brief position description along with primary duties)
  • Primary responsibilities and authority
  • Unique experience and skills
  • Prior employment
  • Special skills
  • Past track record
  • Industry recognition
  • Community involvement
  • Number of years with company
  • Compensation basis and levels (make sure these are reasonable — not too high or too low)
  • Be sure you quantify achievements (e.g. “Managed a sales force of ten people,” “Managed a department of fifteen people,” “Increased revenue by 15 percent in the first six months,” “Expanded the retail outlets at the rate of two each year,” “Improved the customer service as rated by our customers from a 60 percent to a 90 percent rating”)

Also, highlight how the people surrounding you complement your own skills. If you’re just starting out, show how each person’s unique experience will contribute to the success of your venture.

Board of Directors’ Qualifications

The major benefit of an unpaid advisory board is that it can provide expertise that your company cannot otherwise afford. A list of well-known, successful business owners/managers can go a long way toward enhancing your company’s credibility and perception of management expertise.

If you have a board of directors, be sure to gather the following information when developing the outline for your business plan:

  • Positions on the board
  • Extent of involvement with company
  • Historical and future contribution to the company’s success

Service or Product Line

Once you’ve completed the Organizational and Management section of your plan, the next part of your business plan is where you describe your service or product, emphasizing the benefits to potential and current customers. Focus on why your particular product will fill a need for your target customers.

What to Include in Your Service or Product Line Section

  • A Description of Your Product/Service —Include information about the specific benefits of your product or service – from your customers’ perspective. You should also talk about your product or service’s ability to meet consumer needs, any advantages your product has over that of the competition, and the current development stage your product is in (e.g., idea, prototype).
  • Details About Your Product’s Life Cycle —Be sure to include information about where your product or service is in its life cycle, as well as any factors that may influence its cycle in the future.
  • Intellectual Property —If you have any existing, pending, or any anticipated copyright or patent filings, list them here. Also disclose whether any key aspects of a product may be classified as trade secrets. Last, include any information pertaining to existing legal agreements, such as nondisclosure or non-compete agreements.
  • Research and Development (R&D) Activities —Outline any R&D activities that you are involved in or are planning. What results of future R&D activities do you expect? Be sure to analyze the R&D efforts of not only your own business, but also of others in your industry.

Marketing and Sales

Once you’ve completed the Service or Product Line section of your plan, the next part of your business plan should focus on your marketing and sales management strategy for your business.

Marketing is the process of creating customers, and customers are the lifeblood of your business. In this section, the first thing you want to do is define your marketing strategy. There is no single way to approach a marketing strategy; your strategy should be part of an ongoing business-evaluation process and unique to your company. However, there are common steps you can follow which will help you think through the direction and tactics you would like to use to drive sales and sustain customer loyalty.

An  overall marketing strategy  should include four different strategies:

  • A market penetration strategy.
  • A growth strategy. This strategy for building your business might include: an internal strategy such as how to increase your human resources, an acquisition strategy such as buying another business, a franchise strategy for branching out, a horizontal strategy where you would provide the same type of products to different users, or a vertical strategy where you would continue providing the same products but would offer them at different levels of the distribution chain.
  • Channels of distribution strategy. Choices for distribution channels could include original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), an internal sales force, distributors, or retailers.
  • Communication strategy. How are you going to reach your customers? Usually a combination of the following tactics works the best: promotions, advertising, public relations, personal selling, and printed materials such as brochures, catalogs, flyers, etc.

After you have developed a comprehensive marketing strategy, you can then define your sales strategy. This covers how you plan to actually sell your product.

Your  overall sales strategy  should include two primary elements:

  • A sales force strategy. If you are going to have a sales force, do you plan to use internal or independent representatives? How many salespeople will you recruit for your sales force? What type of recruitment strategies will you use? How will you train your sales force? What about compensation for your sales force?
  • Your sales activities. When you are defining your sales strategy, it is important that you break it down into activities. For instance, you need to identify your prospects. Once you have made a list of your prospects, you need to prioritize the contacts, selecting the leads with the highest potential to buy first. Next, identify the number of sales calls you will make over a certain period of time. From there, you need to determine the average number of sales calls you will need to make per sale, the average dollar size per sale, and the average dollar size per vendor.

Next, if you are seeking financing for your business, you’ll need to complete the next part of your plan—Funding Request.

Funding Request

If you are seeking funding for your business venture, use this section to outline your requirements.

Your funding request should include the following information:

  • Your current funding requirement
  • Any future funding requirements over the next five years
  • How you intend to use the funds you receive: Is the funding request for capital expenditures? Working capital? Debt retirement? Acquisitions? Whatever it is, be sure to list it in this section.
  • Any strategic financial situational plans for the future, such as: a buyout, being acquired, debt repayment plan, or selling your business.  These areas are extremely important to a future creditor, since they will directly impact your ability to repay your loan(s).

When you are outlining your funding requirements, include the amount you want now and the amount you want in the future. Also include the time period that each request will cover, the type of funding you would like to have (e.g., equity, debt), and the terms that you would like to have applied.

To support your funding request you’ll also need to provide historical and prospective financial information. Once you have completed your funding request, move on to the next part of your plan—Financial Projections.

Financial Projections

You should develop the Financial Projections section after you’ve analyzed the market and set clear objectives. That’s when you can allocate resources efficiently. The following is a list of the critical financial statements to include in your business plan packet.

Historical Financial Data

If you own an established business, you will be requested to supply historical data related to your company’s performance. Most creditors request data for the last three to five years, depending on the length of time you have been in business.

The historical financial data to include are your company’s income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for each year you have been in business (usually for up to three to five years). Often, creditors are also interested in any collateral that you may have that could be used to ensure your loan, regardless of the stage of your business.

Prospective Financial Data

All businesses, whether startup or growing, will be required to supply prospective financial data. Most of the time, creditors will want to see what you expect your company to be able to do within the next five years. Each year’s documents should include forecasted income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and capital expenditure budgets. For the first year, you should supply monthly or quarterly projections. After that, you can stretch it to quarterly and/or yearly projections for years two through five.

Make sure that your projections match your funding requests; creditors will be on the lookout for inconsistencies. It’s much better if you catch mistakes before they do. If you have made assumptions in your projections, be sure to summarize what you have assumed. This way, the reader will not be left guessing.

Finally, include a short analysis of your financial information. Include a ratio and trend analysis for all of your financial statements (both historical and prospective). Since pictures speak louder than words, you may want to add graphs of your trend analysis (especially if they are positive).

Next, you may want to include an Appendix to your plan. This can include items such as your credit history, resumes, letters of reference, and any additional information that a lender may request.

The Appendix should be provided to readers on an as-needed basis. In other words, it should not be included with the main body of your business plan. Your plan is your communication tool; as such, it will be seen by a lot of people. Some of the information in the business section you will not want everyone to see, but specific individuals (such as creditors) may want access to this information to make lending decisions. Therefore, it is important to have the appendix within easy reach.

The appendix would include:

  • Credit history (personal and business)
  • Resumes of key managers
  • Product pictures
  • Letters of reference
  • Details of market studies
  • Relevant magazine articles or book references
  • Licenses, permits or patents
  • Legal documents
  • Copies of leases
  • Building permits
  • List of business consultants, including attorney and accountant

Any copies of your business plan should be controlled; keep a distribution record. This will allow you to update and maintain your business plan on an as-needed basis. Remember, too, that you should include a private placement disclaimer with your business plan if you plan to use it to raise capital.

How to Make Your Business Plan Stand Out

One of the first steps to business planning is determining your target market and why they would want to buy from you.

For example, is the market you serve the best one for your product or service? Are the benefits of dealing with your business clear and are they aligned with customer needs? If you’re unsure about the answers to any of these questions, take a step back and revisit the foundation of your business plan.

The following tips can help you clarify what your business has to offer, identify the right target market for it and build a niche for yourself.

Be Clear About What You Have to Offer

Ask yourself: Beyond basic products or services, what are you really selling? Consider this example: Your town probably has several restaurants all selling one fundamental product—food. But each is targeted at a different need or clientele.

One might be a drive-thru fast food restaurant, perhaps another sells pizza in a rustic Italian kitchen, and maybe there’s a fine dining seafood restaurant that specializes in wood-grilled fare. All these restaurants sell meals, but they sell them to targeted clientele looking for the unique qualities each has to offer. What they are  really  selling is a combination of product, value, ambience and brand experience.

When starting a business, be sure to understand what makes your business unique. What needs does your product or service fulfill? What benefits and differentiators will help your business stand out from the crowd?

Don’t Become a Jack of All Trades—Learn to Strategize

It’s important to clearly define what you’re selling. You do not want to become a jack-of-all trades and master of none because this can have a negative impact on business growth. As a smaller business, it’s often a better strategy to divide your products or services into manageable market niches. Small operations can then offer specialized goods and services that are attractive to a specific group of prospective buyers.

Identify Your Niche

Creating a niche for your business is essential to success. Often, business owners can identify a niche based on their own market knowledge, but it can also be helpful to conduct a market survey with potential customers to uncover untapped needs. During your research process, identify the following:

  • Which areas your competitors are already well established
  • Which areas are being ignored by your competitors
  • Potential opportunities for your business

Check Your Understanding

Answer the question(s) below to see how well you understand the topics covered in this section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade in the class, and you can retake it an unlimited number of times.

Use this quiz to check your understanding and decide whether to (1) study the previous section further or (2) move on to the next section.

  • Create Your Business Plan. Provided by : U.S. Small Business Association. Located at : . License : Public Domain: No Known Copyright

to make your business plan stand out you must

10 Proven Ways to Make Your Business Stand Out From Competitors

Picture of Laura Click

If you’re a business owner, you’ve undoubtedly heard the statistics around business failure rates.

Only 50 percent of businesses make it past the first five years and one-third make it past the 10-year mark.

Although there are plenty of reasons why businesses fail , lack of differentiation is one that often tops the list.

Why it’s Important to Stand Out in Business

Standing out from your competition is critical to your company’s success. While most people understand that concept, far too many businesses fail to put it into practice.

Case in point: a few years ago, saw an advertisement for a Nashville tattoo parlor with the following message:

“We specialize in all types of tattoos”

It made me shake my head. What does this even mean? What kind of tattoos do they design?

I find it hard to believe that they can create every kind of tattoo well. And, it makes it difficult to know why I should choose this company. To say you specialize in everything goes against the very idea of specialization. After all, to specialize means you’re focusing on one particular area of practice.

Had they said they specialize in traditional Japanese tattoo design, then I would have a much better understanding of what they can do.

Sadly, many businesses fall into this trap. They think they must serve everyone, be broad in focus or keep up with the Joneses , lest they miss out on revenue opportunities.

However, the exact opposite is true.

If you want to be successful, you have to differentiate your business if you want to stand out and get noticed. Otherwise, you end up looking like everyone else and you make it that much harder for people to know when to choose your company.

Stand Out from the Competition - Take Our Free Quiz

How to Stand Out From Your Competition

If you’re not sure how to differentiate your business, you’re in the right place.

Today, I will give you 10 ideas on how to stand out from the competition along with fantastic examples of companies that are doing it well.

Let’s dive in.

1. Deliver extraordinary customer service.

Plenty of businesses claim their customer service is what makes them different. However, just saying that is not enough. You have to deliver an extraordinary customer service experience that you can’t get anywhere else.

For instance, look at Fleet Feet . They custom fit your running shoes. They watch how you walk or run and recommend the proper shoe depending on how you pronate . They even allow you to run in the parking lot to see how they fit and feel. On top of that, they will let you return the shoe weeks or months later if they don’t work out.


One pair they sold me ended up giving me trouble after few weeks. Even though I had logged dozens of runs in them already, they refunded my money and helped me select the proper pair.

After that experience, why would I buy my shoes anywhere else?

Think about how you can offer extremely extraordinary service that goes far beyond what your competitors are doing. And, if you’re looking for additional examples, Nordstrom is another company that is known for delivering legendary customer service .

2. Address customer pain points.

If you want to win customers over, a great way to do that is to alleviate their pain. Let me give you a great example of this in action.

If you’re like most people, you don’t particularly enjoy going to the dentist. The lights, the smells and the sound of drills don’t make for a pleasant experience. That’s why many people avoid going to the dentist altogether.

Dental Bliss wanted to change that perception and address this problem head on. That’s why they created a dental practice with a spa-like atmosphere.

Patients can enjoy refreshments (including wine!) and get a massage while they wait for their appointment. And while patients are getting treated, they can wear noise-cancelling headphones so they don’t have to hear the sound of the dental tools.

This dental practice has gone to great lengths to remove all of the barriers and common pain points to create an experience that is completely different than any other dentist you will find.

Think about how you can solve a common problem for your customers and you’re sure to stand out.  

to make your business plan stand out you must

3. Do business differently than your competitors.

If you want to stand out from your competitors, it pays to do business differently than they do. Finding and exploiting holes in their business model is a great way to set your company apart.

Direct-to-consumer brands, such as Warby Parker or Dollar Shave Club, are great examples of this. They found ways to disrupt the supply chain to bring quality products to consumers at a lower price.

They decided to go against the grain and upend the industry standard. And it has paid off.

But you don’t have to be a large product brand to do this. Take a look at our client,  Encircle Acupuncture , for example.

to make your business plan stand out you must

Their founder, Alexa Hulsey, was frustrated because many of her patients and friends couldn’t get treated as often as they needed. So she transformed the practice in order to treat patients in a community setting. They even adopted a sliding scale payment model so patients only pay what they can afford.

Since opening 10 years ago, they have expanded to a second location and have treated thousands of patients throughout Nashville. They are now the largest acupuncture practice in the Nashville area.

Daring to deliver your product or service differently can pay off in dividends. How can you do the same thing?

Discover your competitive advantage - free quiz

4. Focus on a narrow niche.

When you try to serve everyone, you serve no one. This is especially true with service-based businesses.

Adapting your model or approach for a wide variety of businesses is not cost effective for your business and it makes it harder for people to know if your company is a right fit.

Remember the tattoo parlor above? That is a great example of what NOT to do.

A great way to stand out is to narrowly define whom you serve. For instance, CJ Advertising only serves personal injury law firms across the United States. Because of that, it makes it very simple for a law firm to know if they would be a good fit for their company.

5. Create a powerful offer or guarantee.

Guarantees are a great way to reduce the perceived risk of buying your product or service. Eliminating the hesitation for making a purchase can lead to more sales.

Plus, a guarantee can also make your company seem more trustworthy and likable.

For instance, Zappos is famous for their year-long return policy . It reduces the barriers to buy their shoes because you can take an entire year to decide whether you want to keep the shoes. Not to mention, shipping is free both ways.

We also worked with a law firm client that guaranteed that every phone call or email was returned within 24 hours. If you’ve struggled with law firm responsiveness in the past, this would be a great reason to contact them.

Other ideas include guaranteeing product satisfaction, service experience or results. What could you guarantee that your competitors don’t?

6. Create a memorable culture.

Creating an amazing company culture cannot only help you attract and keep top talent, but it can be a powerful marketing tool as well.

Take Rustici Software, for example.

They have built an incredible benefits program, called Jenafits , named after their company concierge, Jena. She handles everything from laundry and cleaning services to booking flights and restaurant reservations for employees. It’s her job to make life easier for the team so they can focus on doing excellent work.

If that weren’t enough, they don’t track vacation days and when they are at work, they focus on having a lot of fun, which includes everything from Ping-Pong and dodge ball.

As a result, they’ve been named one of Nashville’s Best Places to Work 12 years in a row . Not to mention, they’ve scored tons of press for their innovative approach.

It might seem that a great culture only benefits employees. But studies show that happier employees lead to increased sales and better productivity .

What can you do to make your company a place that people want to go on Monday mornings?

7. Create a cause marketing effort.

Showing that you are a social responsibility and ethical brand is another way to stand out, while also doing some good. You can do this through a cause marketing effort or campaign .

Cause marketing can take a couple of different forms. One way to do this is through giving campaigns or partnerships with non-profits. You’ve most likely seen this with organizations that support breast cancer awareness organizations or St. Jude’s Hospital, for example.

Another cause marketing approach is to use your voice to promote a social cause.

One of the most well-known examples of this is Dove’s real beauty campaign . Through their marketing, Dove is trying to eliminate unattainable beauty standards and promote self-esteem and body confidence in women and girls.

If you’ve seen any of these ads from Dove, you’ll notice that they don’t feature their products at all. Instead, Dove uses these ads to change the narrative when it comes to beauty.

Here’s one that I always found to be powerful .

Even without featuring products in their ads, Dove’s sales jumped from $2.4 Billion to $4Billion during the 10-year span of the campaign.

Ben & Jerry’s is another example of a brand that takes cause marketing seriously. They have adopted a number of causes ––criminal justice reform, racial justice, voting rights, climate change and more––that align with their values .

Not only do they create campaigns to encourage action on these issues, but they also create ice cream flavors to support the message. For instance, a portion of the proceeds from sales of their Justice ReMix’d ice cream  goes to the Advancement Project National Office to support their Free & Safe campaign.

Is there a cause you’re passionate about? Create a program to support that cause at your company.

It doesn’t have to be on the scale of these large brands. But attaching your business to a cause can be another way to attract customers who share your values.

8. Become a social business.

If you want to take your social responsibility to the next level, you could take your efforts one step further to become a social business .

There are more and more companies cropping up that have this kind of approach.

One of the most well known examples is TOMS, the shoe company known for their One for One effort that helps one person in need with every pair of shoes you buy.

Now, there are a number of brands that have adopted a similar one-for-one model, such as Bombas , which donates socks to homeless shelters and FIGS , which donates scrubs to resource-poor countries.

But you don’t have to adopt the one-for-one model to become a social business. Other ways to approach this is to focus providing living wages and reinvesting in the community.

31 Bits is such company. They work with women in Uganda to make fashionable, paper jewelry. They sell the jewelry online and the proceeds help fund healthy education, business training and counseling for their artisans in Uganda.

Nisolo does this with shoes. Not only do they focus on sustainability, their shoes are also ethically produced in factories in Mexico and Peru that provide living wages, healthcare and a healthy work environment.

This kind of approach might mean making a dramatic shift in your entire business model, but these businesses stand out because they are not just another company that sells shoes, socks or jewelry. They are making a positive impact on the world with every sale.

Can you change the world with your work?

9. Be quirky and weird.

Several years ago, the post office returned a Christmas card that I had attempted to send Ryan Hanley in December. I had the wrong address, but it took them six months to send it back to me.

Instead of throwing the card in the trash, I went ahead and sent it to Ryan and laughed about sending a Christmas card in June.

Was it quirky and weird? Yes.

But, that’s exactly why Ryan loved it. He shared it on his Facebook profile and tweeted about it. Doing something out of the ordinary made it stand out.

New strategy… @jr_sci @lauraclick – Ryan Hanley (@RyanHanley_Com) June 29, 2015

So, how can you do something that goes against conventional wisdom?

Maybe that means sending Christmas cards in June. Or, creating silly dance videos . Or, sending GIF-filled, hashtag-laden emails.

Embrace your weirdness as a company . It might be the very reason why people love you.

10. Surprise and delight your customers.

I always love the story that John Janstch shares about a coat his wife purchased at REI.

When she first wore the coat, she slipped her hand in the pocket and found a piece of paper. But, instead of showing the inspection number or some other product information, the slip of paper said, “You are a goddess!”

That tiny, thoughtful act made this coat stand out. And, as a result, it made them want to know more about the brand behind this coat.

to make your business plan stand out you must

Another great example is Dunn Brother’s Coffee , who delivered a kit of my favorite beverage TO MY OFFICE after I tweeted about how much I loved their coffee and wished they delivered.

Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest impact. How can you do the unexpected to surprise and delight your customers? If you do this, you’ll stand out and create raving fans.

Make Your Business Stand Out From the Crowd

There are plenty of additional ways your company can stand out: you can deliver extreme value, give something valuable away for free, create unique partnership or build powerful communities.

But, this list gives you a great place to start. And hopefully, gives you some inspiration to focus on standing out instead of fitting in.

I’d love to know––how does your business stand out from the crowd? What do you do that makes your business different?

Originally published on July 20, 2015. Updated and expanded on May 12, 2021.

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Laura Click

7 replies on “10 proven ways to make your business stand out from competitors”.

Thank you this was helpful information for my tutoring business

This is really helpful..It has opened my brain to thinking wide and also out of the box..Thank you so much

I’m so glad you found it valuable, Shannon!

Thank you so.much for your insightful advice. I was wondering how I am going to work it out. Some company opened the same business with us just right next door and was wondering how we can differentiate ourselves.

Hi, Laura… I appreciate the efforts you have made to publish such a nice and useful article. I hope it would be beneficial for a lot of business owners who are facing strong competition. So, keep it up…

Thank you soo much it have help me to think outside the box

This is such a powerful and insightful article I have ever ready on the internet, this is not a praise, it’s an expression for the results achieved after reading and applying what the article is saying, you can pay a couple of thousands to the gurus on the internet to get this information and here it is free utilize it will 10x your business just what it has done To my business. I am so grateful to you madam thank you.

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How to Make Your Business Plan Stand Out


So how do you stand out amongst the sea of business plans being submitted to funding sources? Below are five keys to distinguishing your plan from the rest. First though, I suggest you use a good business plan template when creating your plan. A good template will include the questions you need to answer in your business plan. This will save you time and ensure you don’t miss any key points.

Start with Brevity

Readers of your business plan don’t skip to the middle. Rather, they start with the first paragraph of the first page. If they like what they read, they’ll read on. If they don’t, they won’t.

As such, the first paragraph of your business plan is the most important. In it, you must concisely explain the nature of your business. Don’t tell a story. Don’t go into a complex discussion of your business. But do succinctly describe what your business does so the reader understands the premise of your venture.

On the rest of your first page, known as the Executive Summary, give a concise description of the other key elements of your business plan as follows. Document the customer segments you are targeting. Detail the size of your market. Identify your key competitors. Describe the key elements of your marketing plan. Show your financial projections and funding requirements. And identify the key members of your management team.


Identify Your Unique Qualities

Businesses that lack unique qualities are bad investments. If there’s nothing unique about your organization, it’s too easy for others to copy you, which would eventually drain your profits. Successful companies have unique qualities. Sometimes these qualities include great management teams with significant experience. Something they includes intellectual property. Oftentimes they include agreements with customers and partners that ensure long-term sales. Whatever your current or planned unique qualities, be sure to document them in your business plan.

Look and Feel Counts

If I didn’t include any returns and this article was lines and lines of text, would you read it? Probably not. Likewise, if your business plan is hard to read, investors and lenders won’t waste their time.

While your business plan doesn’t need to look like a professionally designed brochure, it needs to be user-friendly. Have lots of white space, charts, graphs and pictures to help make your points while making the document more accessible.

Include Realistic Financials

Investors and lenders care deeply about your financials, as they want to make sure they’ll get a return on their investment. Be sure to explain how much funding you need and what you’ll use it for. Also, be sure to include your financial projections, mainly your Income Statement, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Statement.

In creating these projections, be sure to use assumptions you can support. For example, it’s very easy to say you’ll double sales each month for the first year, but can you actually do it? Have you identified other companies, perhaps in different industries, that have achieved such growth in the past? It’s very hard to support assumptions that no company in the history of the world has achieved, so don’t include such assumptions or you’ll lose credibility.


Show Your Past Accomplishments

The best indicator of future success is past success. So be sure to include all your organization’s successes to date. Even if those successes are limited to items like choosing a location, they show you know how to execute.

There are too many dreamers out there who can only dream, and just can’t execute. Show what you’ve been able to execute on as it will give readers confidence that you’ll be able to continue executing once they fund you.

By following these five keys, you will distinguish your business plan from others. You will impress investors and lenders, and put your company in the best position to raise funding.

If you have any questions, please ask below! Cancel reply

Made Urban

How To Make your Business Stand Out (in a competitive market)

I received an email last week from someone asking me to review their business because sales were low.

At first glance, I didn’t see anything wrong.  

She was selling digital invitations and stationery. Her designs were elegant, her branding was spot on, and on the surface, it appeared as though she was implementing SEO best practices .  

So what’s the problem?

Sometimes, a business owner can be doing everything right; following all the best advice and implementing all the right tactics.  

But those efforts can fall short when selling a product in a competitive market.  

When there are almost 500,000 listings on Etsy for “wedding invitation”, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your product photos are, or how spot-on your SEO tactics are, it’s going to be difficult to get your listing to the top of search results.  

There are just too many listings for Etsy’s algorithm to choose from; they can’t all be on page one.

And when it comes to marketing, your target market can’t pay attention to every marketing message they see in a day.

So although you may be posting to social media multiple times a day, there’s just too much competition and your posts are being ignored.  

If you feel as though sales are slow because your business and products aren’t being seen, it’s time to make some changes so your business stands out to search engines and to your target market.  

Where your business needs to stand out

Writing catchy product descriptions , having smooth sales pitches, or offering guarantees are great ways to make your business stand out once people make it to your online or offline shop.

Offering great customer service, giving back, or creating a unique unboxing experience are great ways to make your business stand out once someone has purchased .  

But your business needs to stand out long before someone gets to your shop or buys from you.  

If you want your business to stand out so you can attract new customers , you need standout factors that are obvious at first contact.  

Otherwise, shoppers don’t make it far enough to discover all the good stuff inside your business.  

That first contact happens when:

  • a consumer is searching for a product and your listing appears in their search feed (consumers come to you)
  • you put your products in front of consumers through marketing (you go to consumers)

1 – Consumers come to you  

When consumers need or want a new product, they search for the right fit.  

They may go to their favourite website and conduct a search, visit their favorite store or market, or type a keyword phrase into a search engine to discover new businesses.

Let’s look at how a customer might come to the stationery business .  

When someone is getting married and needs wedding invitations, they might type “wedding invitations” into a search bar. That search bar may be on Google, a marketplace like Etsy, or perhaps even a social media platform like Instagram or Pinterest.  

In the best-case scenario, your business appears near the top of search results, and the shopper clicks on your website or your listing.  

2 – You go to consumers

Marketing can convince a consumer to buy, even when they’re not actively shopping or seeking out a business/product.

They may be scrolling through Instagram when a post promoting jewelry appears in their feed. They weren’t shopping for a new pair of earrings, but they look so great on the model, they decide they want a pair. (Or, if they’re not ready to buy, they might follow the business, save the post, or sign up for their newsletter. The business has an opportunity to sell to them in the future.)

In this scenario, the consumer isn’t searching for a product. But the business placed their product in front of them and encouraged them to buy.  

That’s marketing. Your efforts are spent finding your target market and advertising your business/products to them.

For example, the stationery business selling wedding invitations may:

  • grow a social media account and create content people interact with
  • place ads that target soon-to-be-brides/grooms
  • send out press releases to magazines and newspapers
  • work with bloggers to get featured in an article

In the best-case scenario, their target market notices and interacts with their marketing.  

These are the two ways you reach potential customers; they come to you or you go to them ( read more about that here ).  

And these are the areas you want your business to stand out.

How to stand out and attract new customers

Based on the two ways you can reach new customers, let’s look at ways to make your business stand out.

1 – Uncover niche keywords (Consumers come to you)

If you like the idea of customers coming to you and you’re willing to work on SEO (search engine optimization), then focus on standing out when it comes to the niche keywords consumers are searching.  

When you focus on niche keywords (e.g. “caricature wedding invitations”), instead of general keywords (e.g. “wedding invitations”), you’ll have less competition, so your product listings are more likely to rise to the top of results and stand out.  

This approach does require keyword research and you’ll need to use a tool for accurate stats.  

There are free tools, such as Google Trends and Google Ads. And there are paid tools that offer a free trial, such as Semrush, Moz, and Ahrefs. You can take advantage of the free trials and complete all of your keyword research within the free trial period, and then cancel your subscription before your paid membership starts.  

I use Ahrefs for my keyword research.  

Ahrefs has many valuable features and stats, but the ones I’ll focus on for this article are:

  • global volume (GV) – how many people are searching a term each month on Google, worldwide.
  • keyword difficulty (KD) – how hard it is to rank for a keyword, based on a scale of 0 – 100.

Using the stationery business as an example, “wedding invitation” has approximately 152,000 searches per month (globally).

It also has a keyword difficulty score of 78 (super hard). The closer the score is to 100, the less chance a small business has of making it to the top of search results because it’ll be competing with some of the biggest websites and businesses in the world.  

In my experience, a small handmade business is best targeting keywords with a KD score of 10 or lower (the closer to 0 the better).

When I search “wedding invitation” in Ahrefs, I’m also given a report with all the keyword phrases that include “wedding invitation” (e.g. “wedding invitation templates”, “wedding invitation wording”, “wedding invitation cards” etc.).

This report helps me find niches within the wedding invitation category .  

If I set the filter to only show me keyword phrases that have a difficulty score of 10 or less , I can find niche keywords a small business has a much better chance of ranking for.  

Once I do that, there are several options:

  • Muslim wedding invitation
  • Whatsapp wedding invitation
  • Christian wedding invitation
  • Tamil wedding invitation
  • Caricature wedding invitation
  • Blue wedding invitation
  • Black wedding invitation
  • Telugu wedding invitation
  • Gold wedding invitation
  • Floral wedding invitation
  • Chinese wedding invitation  
  • Black and white wedding invitation
  • Pink wedding invitation
  • Green wedding invitation
  • Passport wedding invitation

There are dozens of pages of results, these are just a handful from the first page, and ones that had the highest global search volume in a month (each niche product listed above has over 1000 searches each month).  

The stationery business could continue selling wedding invitations, but shift its focus to a specific type of wedding invitation, based on low competition niche keywords.  

For example, they may create wedding invitations designed to be shared through popular apps or digital platforms (e.g. “WhatsApp wedding invitation”, “email wedding invitation”, “Facebook wedding invitation”, etc.).

They’d have a much easier time making it to the top of Google search results when targeting the keyword “WhatsApp wedding invitations” (GV = 4000, KD = 3 ) than they would targeting “wedding invitations” (GV 152,000, KD = 78 ).  

On Etsy, their invitations still have the opportunity to appear when someone is searching the term “wedding invitations” or shopping under Wedding & Party -> Invitations & Paper -> Wedding invitations.  

But now, their listing will stand out. They also have the opportunity to appear when someone searches “WhatsApp wedding invitation”.

You don’t necessarily need to change what you sell to stand out through niche keywords.

You may be able to find keyword phrases your target market searches that are related to the products you sell.

This route will require you to set up a blog and have a good understanding of how to write articles for search engines and people.  

For example, “whose name goes first on wedding invitation” has almost 1000 searches every month and a keyword difficulty score under 10.  

It’s a lot easier for a small business to rank for “whose name goes first on a wedding invitation” than “wedding invitation”.  

Sure, not everyone searching that phrase is necessarily looking to buy wedding invitations, but chances are pretty good they’re in the process of shopping for invitations and haven’t chosen a stationery designer yet.  

If a business selling wedding invitations finds dozens of search phrases related to wedding invitations and preparing for a wedding, it can attract thousands of people who fit within its target market.  

When those people visit the article to read wedding invitation info, they should see images of the invitations the business sells and little snippets of promotional text (e.g. “Not sure what type of information to include on your invitations? As part of my wedding invitation design services, I help brides/grooms edit their text” ).

This will encourage more people to shop with them after gathering information from the article.

Spend some time researching the specific phrases your target market is searching for each month and consider if you can offer products to match those queries (and offer products that are better than what’s already out there).

2 – Find a niche within a target market (You go out and find consumers)

When you’re going out and finding potential customers, you’re approaching them when they’re not shopping.  

This means, your marketing images and copy need to be extraordinary to not only catch your target market’s attention in a busy world, but also get them to consider buying when they don’t necessarily need/want to.  

You must target a specific group of people so your marketing message speaks directly to them and catches their attention.

In the words of Marie Forleo:

If you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one.

When your marketing messages are too broad/general and try to appeal to too many types of consumers, it gets lost and doesn’t stand out to anyone.

For example, if the business selling wedding invitations fills its Instagram feed with a wide variety of invitation styles (e.g. modern, gothic, caricature, bohemian, vintage, etc.), that feed doesn’t appeal to anyone. There will only be one or two invitations each type of bride/groom might like.  

No one feels like that business was made for them. They don’t feel a connection to the business or as though the designer “gets” them, their style, or their vision for their wedding.  

On the other hand, if they fill their feed with bohemian-style invitations, now they’re talking to brides/grooms having a bohemian-style wedding (“boho wedding invitations” is also a low competition keyword with a healthy search volume; GV = 2700 KD = 0).

The stationery designer is giving a niche target market (boho brides/grooms) lots of options to choose from, positioning themselves as an expert when it comes to boho bridal designs, and making a connection with the niche target market.  

Instead of being just another business selling wedding invitations, they’re THE business selling bohemian-style wedding invitations/wedding stationery.  

They stand out by offering something different and appealing to a niche within the bride-to-be/groom-to-be target market.  

To start, you must know who your target market is.  

In this example, the wedding invitation business has a target market of brides/grooms.  

That’s a pretty straightforward example. But for many business owners, their target market isn’t as clear.  

For example, a business selling jewelry may have defined its target market as “women in their 30’s”. As I explain in How To Find a Goldmine of Customers , that is not a good target market.

>> If you’re not sure who your target market is and you want help finding a profitable one, check out: How to Define a Target Market for your Handmade Business

>> If you want an idea of the type of target market I suggest small business owners define, check out: Every Craft Business Needs One Of These

In the wedding invitation example, the target market of brides/grooms is a good start, but it’s too competitive.  

So we must find a niche within the bride/groom target market.  

That niche might be defined by:

  • The bride/groom’s style (e.g. boho)
  • Or the type of wedding a bride/groom is having (e.g. beach wedding)
  • Or the bride/groom’s wedding venue (e.g. barn wedding)

Once a niche is determined (e.g. bohemian-style brides/grooms), marketing efforts should target that niche.  

The wedding invitation business may now:

  • focus on bohemian images, text, and hashtags when marketing on Instagram
  • create ads that incorporate bohemian wedding text and images and that target bohemian brides/grooms
  • pitch the unique angle to magazines and newspapers (e.g. send out press releases to magazines and newspapers)
  • focus on reaching out to boho style blogs and offer to write a guest post about key components of throwing the perfect boho wedding (which obviously starts with the perfect boho wedding invitations).

It also helps if a business’s branding reflects the niche market they’re targeting.  

Obviously, you don’t want to go too niche, or you’ll have trouble expanding down the road. But if you find a niche that has lots of people in it, and keyword stats look good (e.g. high search volume/low competition), it may be worth it to get specific with your brand.  

For example, the stationery business may re-design their logo to have a boho vibe, change their tagline to include “bohemian”, update their website to have a boho look, etc.  

Keyword research does come into play here too.  

You want to be sure you’re choosing a target market niche that actually exists ( this will help ) and that your marketing is using keywords that the niche target market will use/search.  

For example, when creating an Instagram post, the wedding stationery business will want to research which hashtags are popular among their niche target market. #bohochicwedding? Or #bohemianbride?

If you’re creating a business for everyone within a broad target market (e.g. ALL brides), you won’t stand out to anyone.  

Build a business that is perfect for a niche target market and you’ll stand out to everyone within it.

3 – Niche keywords AND niche target market

A business can thrive by focusing on either option 1 OR option 2.  

There are several businesses that don’t offer a niche product (or a unique product), but they’ve attracted thousands of customers because they have a unique brand and a unique marketing plan. They don’t need to worry about being at the top of searches because they market their products in a way that stands out and goes viral.

On the other hand, there are several businesses that don’t rely on social media or extravagant marketing campaigns because they’ve found high volume/low competition keywords to target, then focus on SEO and rise to the top of search engines.  

That being said, if you can build a business that takes advantage of keyword research and SEO, as well as unique marketing campaigns that target a niche market, you’ll find even more success.  

Some popular search terms don’t necessarily translate to powerful marketing campaigns.  

For example, if the wedding stationery business focused on niche keywords relating to colors and color combinations (e.g. “blue wedding invitations”, “black wedding invitation”, “black and white wedding invitation”, “pink wedding invitation”, etc.) they may have hundreds of customers discovering them through search engines.  

However, on Instagram, sharing a blue wedding invitation, then a black and white wedding invitation, then a pink wedding invitation, won’t create an eye-catching feed that speaks to a niche target market. The color niche in wedding invitations also isn’t a unique angle to pitch to blogs, magazines, or newspapers.  

It won’t work for every type of business/product, but if you can find niche keywords that also target a niche market, you’ll find success faster.

Of course, one can’t simply slap some high volume/low competition keywords onto their existing Etsy listings and call it a day.  

Once you create a business that stands out from the outside , it must reflect those changes on the inside too.

For example, if the wedding stationery business decided to target the niche market of bohemian brides/grooms, they couldn’t simply design one or two bohemian-style wedding invitations and fill their Instagram feed with bohemian imagery.  

They would need to create an entire line of bohemian wedding stationery and re-brand their business to have a bohemian vibe.

On the other hand, if they decided to work on SEO and target keywords such as “Christian wedding invitation”, it’s not enough to simply create one listing titled “Christian wedding invitation”. Their website/shop must use the keywords multiple times, and those keywords must be surrounded by other  related keywords.  

When a website uses “Christian”, “Catholic”, “Judaism”, etc along with “wedding invitation”, “wedding thank you card”, “bachelorette party invites”, etc. it helps paint a picture for search engine algorithms.  

A search engine, such as Google, will know that the website focuses on religious + wedding stationery, and will be able to match search queries accordingly.  

On the other hand, if a website uses a mishmash of keywords “Christian”, “bohemian”, “wedding invitation”, “cleaning checklist”, etc. search engines can’t easily define what a website is about and how to match it to a search query, so it won’t show up in search results.  

Nothing comes easy when you’re building a business; you must put the work in if you want results. The changes you make to stand out can’t just be on the surface. 

It’s also important to ease into a change and test the waters. Once you see proof (i.e. sales), you can lean into the change more.  

For example, the stationery business should not re-brand their business, re-design their website, scrap their existing products, and design a new collection of boho wedding invitations without creating a few designs first, marketing them, and seeing if shop stats and sales increase.

That process also takes time.

Adding a few listings and creating a few new Instagram posts isn’t enough work to see big results. 

You may only notice a few extra views, likes, and comments at first. And maybe just one extra sale in a month. You’ll get small   indications that you’re moving in the right direction.

Let your numbers guide you.  

I hope this article has given you some ideas about how to make your business stand out. Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

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Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!

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When it comes to winning new customers, the proposal you put in front of potential clients is key. If you’re using the same template for each business proposal that you send out, you’re missing the opportunity to customize each one for maximum engagement and impact.

With a few tricks and tips, you can ensure that all of your business proposals knock the socks off of your soon-to-be customers!

1. use positive, engaging words.

Most business proposals are incredibly boring. Yes, they cover the scope of a project and deliverables, but what stands out? What makes the potential client sit up and take notice?

It’s all about the words you use . Think about what the client wants to achieve with this project or in general. Maybe you talk about how you can help the client become a “trailblazer” or ”thought leader.” Maybe your solutions are “exclusive” or “innovative.”

Find those words that spark interest, and use them throughout your proposal.

Also, make sure you aren’t wasting space with filler words and phrases like “in total” or “very.” Stick to what you need to say, and keep it simple.

2. Keep It Short and Sweet

You might feel like the longer the proposal, the greater the likelihood that you’ll get the sale, but the opposite is true. If your business proposal can’t be read in eight minutes or less , it’s too long. Covering the basics (what the project is, what you will deliver, time and financial estimates, milestones, etc.) shouldn’t be more than a few pages. Any longer and your audience might glaze over while reading.

3. Know Your Audience’s Problem

You’re here to solve a problem for a potential client, so keep that problem at the center of your business proposal. Rather than focusing on all the cool things your product or solution can do, frame it in terms of how it will remove a headache for the client.

How will this solution make the client’s life or job easier? Will it save time or money? Streamline operations? Help them make more money? These benefits are more important than any features of your product , so leverage them.

4. Shine the Light on Your Process

Sorry to say, but you’re far from the only company who can solve this client’s particular problem. Your competitive advantage is in how you solve it. Outline your approach in the business proposal so your audience can understand why it’s unique and why it’s the best choice for them.

If you work with a highly-trained team, outline their experience and why it’s a boon for the client. If you turn work around lightning-fast, say so. Whatever makes you stand out in your industry, that’s what needs to be highlighted in this proposal.

5. Be Realistic

If you say you can complete the project in a week, you better be able to do that. It’s better to give yourself and your team a time buffer in case something comes up (sometimes it’s the client who actually causes a bottleneck, and yet you’ll still be blamed if you miss a deadline).

Build a few extra days into your deadlines in the proposal. That way, if you’re able to finish the work early, the client is surprised and delighted.

6. Detail the Costs

Many clients will balk at seeing large figures on the estimated cost without explanation. If you say the project will cost $5,000, what does that include? How do the numbers break down?

If you are estimating based on an assumed number of hours, say so. If you have fixed costs (website design: $2,500; website template: $100), itemize those to provide clarity to your potential client.

7. Make the Proposal Visually Appealing

While there’s no need to go overboard in the design department, a nice template with a colored header and subheaders can make your business proposal more enticing to read . If charts or graphs can support the information you include, feel free to add them. Always print in color!

8. Have Three People Read the Proposal Before You Send it

While certainly you should proofread the proposal, you may not catch errors or confusing points since you wrote the proposal. Ask three other people (employees, if you’ve got them; friends and family, if not) and ask them:

  • Is what I’m proposing clear?
  • Are there areas that need clarification?
  • Are there errors (spelling, grammatical, formatting, etc.)?
  • Would you say yes to the proposal?

Make edits as necessary and put your ego aside. Your objective is to make this proposal reader-friendly and compelling.

With the right verbiage and presentation, your business proposal can open doors to new business. Customize for each potential client to ensure you hit the mark with their need

Pitch Your Business Follow these guidelines to develop or refine a pitch that sizzles.

Simple Steps for Starting Your Business: Business Concept In this module of the Simple Steps for Starting Your Business online program, you will learn how to evaluate your business concept.

Copyright © 2024 SCORE Association,

Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.



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30 Ways to Make Your Business Stand Out From the Crowd

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Let’s face it, starting a business can be very easy, but staying in business can be very difficult given that our customers have too many choices on where to spend their hard-earned cash.  So the question I posed to small business owners was “How do you make your business stand out from the crowd so that people will choose to spend their dollars with you?”  Here are 30 of the best responses that I received from businesses located all over the world!  I hope there’s a few that resonate with you.

1. Give ‘Em What They Want

For us, at The Burger Dive, it was all about offering something that we didn’t think our city really had, and that we believed would be wanted. Our city is overflowing with fast food burger chains, and a couple of higher end burger chains, but it really lacked that one little mom and pop burger joint that everyone loves. We have maintained our standards from day one, using only fresh and quality ingredients. We make everything ourselves, and it has paid off. People tell us daily “this is the best I’ve ever had,” and they say they can really tell the difference between us and our larger chain competitors. It really comes down to freshness, and also our creativity with our burgers and our specials.

Thanks to Brad Halsten, The Burger Dive

2. Become a Winner

We have won multiple awards and we are proud of them. The awards have become not only a pat on the back, but a great marketing tool that really gets our name out there. The award definitely holds its value as the years go on.

Thanks to Matt Pringle, DCP Productions

3.  Become Really Good at Something Really Difficult

We are a team of professional organizers who specialize in the severely cluttered and hoarders. We actually receive referrals from other organizers because this is a very difficult segment of our industry and is too much for many organizers.

We allow the client to be in command of their costs by charging hourly rather than making them buy a package up front and we make sure they are very comfortable with their organizer since this is SUCH an intimate business. We offer a quicker turn-around time if they are up against a deadline (often imposed by the county) while still allowing them to keep their dignity and self-esteem.

Thanks to Maria Spetalnik, ConquerTheClutter

Related: Media Branding Tips

4. Cater to Your Customer

Madcapz are specifically made for women by a woman. Most ball caps are made for men so they are too big and don’t fit women well. Our caps are low profile, meaning there is less room in the crown and this is better suited to women’s heads.

Also, Madcapz are available in over 20 fabulous prints; most baseball caps are in boring, drab colors and splattered with corporate and sports logos.

And finally, a growing trend with our buyers: they love that our baseball caps are Made in the USA! Most ball caps today are made in Bangladesh and China, ours are made here and buyers love that!

Thanks to Carrie Bell, Madcapz

5.  Tap into What Works and Make it Your Own

We are a military/patriotic fashion apparel brand. We just got started about 2 years ago but within 18 months had the most popular website among our competitors and the second largest following of fans on Facebook. How did I do it? A lot of long nights… But seriously, we separated ourselves. When I started the business I really just wanted something cool to wear that looked modern but had a military or patriotic twist to it, being a veteran of the United States Army and a Drill Sergeant at the time.

We took modern cool looks and quality from what’s currently hot in the market, put a patriotic or military twist on our designs and then guaranteed our apparel for life like another apparel retailer does. We really didn’t innovate anything, but took what works from other successful companies and put them together to come up with us, Grunt Style. It’s worked fantastically and we continue to explode with growth.

Thanks to Drill Sergeant Daniel Alarik, Grunt Style LLC

6. Specialize: Be The Expert-Then Deliver

There are a ton of freelance writers, but not many have expertise in my niches (aging, senior care, evidence-based health advice, and high-end SEO friendly content for websites). My clients come to me for expertise they haven’t seen elsewhere. They could pay cheap prices for lesser work, but they know that with me, they’ll get exceptional content that beats the competition’s. So I help their businesses stand out too! I also strive to be outstanding to work with.

Thanks to Leigh Ann Otte of LA Wordsmith

7. Ice The Cake

So many businesses advertise their “quality” or “speed” as if the competition doesn’t have this. Come up with something the competition doesn’t have, something extra – icing on the cake. I don’t market this enough – maybe I should – but when we write a book for a client, we will happily prepare a synopsis and query letter at no extra cost. We only bring this forward when a lead asks about what comes after the writing. It helps close the sale rather than generate new leads.

Thanks to David Leonhardt of THGM writers

8. Be Authentic, Be Bold, Be Different!

Here is something different in this day and age, NEVER TAKE ANY ONE for granted, listen to your clients. provide value in your products and service, and go above and beyond to make people feel like they are your only customer. Return to simple values such as face to face marketing, handshakes, and then use modern day technology to stay in front of them and provide resources, education establishing yourself as the authority in your field.

Thanks to Marc Abelman, Las Vegas Interior Design

9. Be Honorable and Forthright and You are Golden

Honest straightforward communication and portrayal of your product. No gimmicks schmooze.

Thanks to Lys Fulda, Sphinx Group

10. Cater to A Specific Niche

We make accommodations for, and cater, to special needs kids.

Thanks to David Perkins, Bubble Swim School

11. Specialize

I am a freelance copywriter competing with dozens, if not hundreds, of other freelance copywriters for assignments. However, with a degree in Chemistry and an insatiable appetite for understanding anything related to science and technology, I have a unique selling proposition. There are plenty of good writers “out there” who are terrified of anything having to do with technology. There are also plenty of highly skilled technical people who can’t tell you in English exactly what it is that they do. I have the rare ability to interview a scientist or an engineer, or read a very technical paper, and translate the “Techno-Babble” or “technical gobbledygook” into compelling English that even people with no technical training can read and understand. My corporate logo is a red apple, and my tag line is, “Technical copy with a delicious difference. Like an apple, it will be “red.” This is how I differentiate my business from my competition.

Thanks to Robert P. Baker, Copy To Go, Inc.

12. Create a Better Experience

Ringadoc puts patients in touch with doctors from any phone, anywhere, anytime. Our meticulous attention to technology separates us from our competitors. We devote just as much time to perfecting our software as we do to finding the best team of doctors, because we believe great technology goes a long way in creating a better healthcare experience. Most recently, we developed the first app that enables patients and doctors to video conference right on their Apple and Android devices.

Thanks to Stephanie A. Higa, Ringadoc Communications

13. Position Yourself As The Expert In Your Field

I try to not be a jack of all trades. We have a tendency to say, “Oh sure, I can do that.” By doing so you quickly find yourself in an over promise, under deliver situation. If you don’t spread yourself too thin, it gives you a chance to perfect the areas that you are really good at. That way you can be THE person in town who is the expert to work with. Be sure to have a list of people you trust to suggest in the fields that you don’t cover. You want to be the person your client consults for referrals!

Thanks to Darlynn Nangano of Little Blog Dress Media

14. Do it Differently Than Your Competitors is an online marketplace where you can buy and sell things without money. You post auction-style listings to earn credits, and can then use those credits to buy things from other users. It’s a great way to trade things you don’t use for things you actually want.

Our main competitive edge is being a truly free service, as opposed to eBay who charges listing fees to sell your things. In addition, we offer a charity donation feature so users can essentially turn the things they don’t want into charitable donations ( We’ve captured a lot of users from the eBay market as well as the Free listings on Craigslist, and hope to continue expanding our services so everyone can barter instead of buy.

Thanks to Mabel Yoshimoto,

15. Tell People HOW You Are Different

I changed my tagline last year to: We are not the biggest mover, but our clients tell us we are the BEST!

Then all of my follow-up with prospects and customers outlines how/why our clients say we are the best. This puts psychological triggers in their head so once we provide services for them (and my guys in the field are aware of this campaign), then when we ask for a testimonial they already have it in their head, that we are the best, and are more inclined to put that in their testimonial.

Thanks to Jim Howey of TechMove

16. Speak Their Language

We are the first marketing communication firm in the world to achieve LEED Platinum. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and was established in 1993 by the U.S. Green Building Council to encourage sustainable building practices in the U.S. My traditional marketing communications firm has clients in the building materials industry and we wanted to increase that business. Getting accredited, teaching LEED and finally getting the office Certified at the highest level tells our potential clients that we know what their customers are wanting in sustainable building products and that we can speak the customer’s language.

Thanks to Chuck Lohre, Lohre & Associates Marketing Communications

17. Niche-ify!

There are many companies that offer marketing services to small businesses. What makes Market Mommy different? We cater to the mom business owner who is trying to get her business off the ground in an affordable manner. All of our services are extremely low cost, yet professional. We help moms brainstorm and develop a marketing plan that is both effective and realistic. Our rates are low and we suggest other marketing efforts that are affordable as well.

Thanks to Dawn E. Berryman, Founder, Market Mommy®

18. Be Yourself, Have Personality

For many freelancers, we ARE our business. There’s just one person, just us. So, just like in personal relationships, just be yourself. Your business is unique because you are unique. Allow your personality to shine through. You don’t have to be the biggest or the fanciest or the most well-known company to be successful. Just look at me. There are bazillion web designers in Phoenix. What sets me apart? I treat clients like friends and let them get to know me.

Thanks to Perri Collins of Perri Collins Consulting

19. Partner with Your Customers

My company stands out because we make our members/customers revenue sharing partners in our business. Our referral program pays our members a percentage of the earnings of the customers they refer to us. They earn money without even shopping and establish residual income for themselves.

Thanks to Frank DeBlasi, Hoopla Doopla, Inc.

20. Helping Nurses Become Heroes

I recently launched a nurse speaking, training, and consulting business. At first, my sales message looked like the others (telling potential clients I could help improve their nurses’ clinical and professional…etc). Ugh. I looked like a cookie cutter. So, I got to the core of what I was trying to do and simplified my message. I want nurses to believe they are heroes; that making a difference is a choice. What makes me different is I tap into their emotions and help them believe in themselves.

Thanks to Renee Thompson of RTConnections

21. Be Old School!

I know that what makes my business stand out shouldn’t be so simple, or old school, but it is. I live by this motto: “Do What You Say You Will Do!” I know it’s not the golden rule, but pretty close to it. I am constantly amazed that my clients thank me for doing such a simple thing as returning a phone call. But, when your friendly competitors take days, or do it not at all, it makes you stand out from a huge pack. All you have is your word, respect it and others will respect you!

Thanks to Karen Berg of United Brokers Group

22. Personal Recommendations and Testimonials and Celebrity Endorsements

I work as a professional magician in the UK and it’s important to stand out in some way as there are hundreds of magicians fighting for the same (relatively small) amount of business and little to differentiate them.  One thing I have done is to make sure I get personal recommendations and testimonials from people who have hired me. It’s always useful to have plenty of these on your website, they really help. People can be a bit wary, as they know these things can easily be faked, so actual screenshots of any written “thank yous” are very powerful.

Also, I love celebrity endorsements. They are tricky to come by, but worth their weight in gold. I was working in a restaurant and an old guy came in with his family. I went over to do some magic for them and (OMG!) it was Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin! I made sure to get a photo with him and put it onto my website; I’ve had several bookings as a result from people who say “If you’re good enough for Jimmy Page then you’re good enough for me!” Always be ready to grab a picture with any celebrity you come across, even if you only speak to them for a few seconds grab that shot, it will be invaluable.

Thanks to Mike Stoner (magician) Magician For Hire UK

23. Provide a Money-Back Guarantee

We offer a 100% money-back guarantee for our services. This means that if one or more objectives are not met within the agreed upon deadlines, we will give the client back every penny of their fee. At first glance, there appears to be a lot of risk involved with doing this. However, we’re confident in our experience and the level of services we provide to our clients.

Thanks to Tim Parkin, Parkin Web Development, LLC

24. Provide a Free Trial is a subscription-based service that gives the customer the best and cheapest possible way to view and participate in government auctions via our site. We have changed the game by offering people an initial three-day free trial membership which has never been done before by anybody in the industry.

Thanks to Ian Aronovich,

25. Offer Something that Your Competitors Don’t

In Phoenix we have a lot of problems with car windshields breaking due to rocks from never ending road construction and excessive heat.  The problem was that you could get your windshield fixed one day and then need it again the next.  Our glass company, Desert Breeze Glass become the exclusive licensee of Diamon Fusion glass guard which is a coating that is applied to the exterior portion of the windshield making it water and rock resistant. We have several insurance agents who have said their glass claims have reduced from the repeat glass offenders since applying DFI to their windshields.  This makes agents refer customers to us again and again.

Thanks to Cathryn Curcio of Desert Breeze Glass

26. Don’t Follow the Dots, Create Your Own Path

At we have both a blessing and a curse by having a very unique product.  It is easy to share with people and we often hear “why didn’t I think of that.”  The downfall is we have no marketing model to follow.  We had to become just as unique in our marketing techniques as our product.

Thanks to Jennifer Davidson Director of Operations SaveOnBrew , LLC.

27. “World Change is How We Roll.”

Sevenly is a social good startup that stands out from the competition in several key ways. Lots of people sell cool t-shirts, but we sell tees with a cause. Each purchase gives $7 to the charity of the week. We also standout by getting our customers involved in promoting the cause. For example this week, when we hit $4,900, we’ll have raised enough to pay for a clean water well for a village in Peru.

Thanks to Justin Palmer, Sevenly

28. It’s All in The Name

I think our memorable name differentiates us from competitors: Fatpacking

Obviously people don’t base their decision to join our weight loss backpacking trips by name alone, but it does get them to at least consider us.

Thanks to Steve,

29. Stand Out on Every Level is the first provider of mail-order subscription-based home cat litter delivery. The number one way we stand out is by being more convenient. In truth, we also strive to provide a better product in a more green way and to have great customer interactions. We really try to stand out on every level, as a startup, we know that’s our best chance for success.

Thanks to Josh Wiesenfeld,

Related: Sign up to receive the StartupNation newsletter!

30. Send Your Message in a Unique Package

It’s trickier to get the attention of the decision maker with your message. Two ideas we’ve used that have worked: (1) We have emailed a letter to a nearby pizza restaurant, they printed it out & delivered the pizza (vegan & cheese free since we publish a newspaper on natural preventive health) with our letter taped on top of the box. This idea was a big hit and helped establish the relationship and sale. (2)

Send your info by mail in nice 4 color/gloss file folders (label goes horizontal).

Thanks to Thomas Katovsky of Healthy Referral Newspaper

Want to get more inexpensive and practical small business marketing ideas, grab a free ebook called  “Build Buzz for Your Biz, 23 Creative and Inexpensive Marketing Strategies That Will Get You Noticed” at

Wendy Kenney is the bestselling author of  How to Build Buzz for Your Business available on, and has been featured in the  Wall Street Journal ,  USA Today, and  Newsday.

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