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How to Choose the Best Legal Structure for Your Business

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Choosing the right legal structure is a necessary part of running a business. Whether you're just starting out or your business is growing, it's crucial to understand the options.

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Your business’s legal structure has many ramifications. It can determine how much liability your company faces during lawsuits. It can put up a barrier between your personal and business taxes – or ensure this barrier doesn’t exist. It can also determine how often your board of directors must file paperwork – or if you even need a board. [Related article: What to Do if Your Business Gets Sued ]

We’ll explore business legal structures and how to choose the right structure for your organization. 

What is a business legal structure?

A business legal structure, also known as a business entity, is a government classification that regulates certain aspects of your business. On a federal level, your business legal structure determines your tax burden. On a state level, it can have liability ramifications.

Why is a business legal structure important?

Choosing the right business structure from the start is among the most crucial decisions you can make. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Taxes: Sole proprietors, partnership owners and S corporation owners categorize their business income as personal income. C corporation income is business income separate from an owner’s personal income. Given the different tax rates for business and personal incomes, your structure choice can significantly impact your tax burden.
  • Liability: Limited liability company (LLC) structures can protect your personal assets in the event of a lawsuit. That said, the federal government does not recognize LLC structures; they exist only on a state level. C corporations are a federal business structure that includes the liability protection of LLCs.
  • Paperwork: Each business legal structure has unique tax forms. Additionally, if you structure your company as a corporation, you’ll need to submit articles of incorporation and regularly file certain government reports. If you start a business partnership and do business under a fictitious name, you’ll need to file special paperwork for that as well.
  • Hierarchy: Corporations must have a board of directors. In certain states, this board must meet a certain number of times per year. Corporate hierarchies also prevent business closure if an owner transfers shares or exits the company, or when a founder dies . Other structures lack this closure protection.
  • Registration: A business legal structure is also a prerequisite for registering your business in your state. You can’t apply for an employer identification number (EIN) or all your necessary licenses and permits without a business structure.
  • Fundraising: Your structure can also block you from raising funds in certain ways. For example, sole proprietorships generally can’t offer stocks. That right is primarily reserved for corporations.
  • Potential consequences for choosing the wrong structure: Your initial choice of business structure is crucial, although you can change your business structure in the future. However, changing your business structure can be a disorganized, confusing process that can lead to tax consequences and the unintended dissolution of your business. 

Types of business structures

The most common business entity types are sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies, corporations and cooperatives. Here’s more about each type of legal structure.

Sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest business entity. When you set up a sole proprietorship , one person is responsible for all a company’s profits and debts.

“If you want to be your own boss and run a business from home without a physical storefront, a sole proprietorship allows you to be in complete control,” said Deborah Sweeney, vice president and general manager of business acquisitions at Deluxe Corp. “This entity does not offer the separation or protection of personal and professional assets, which could prove to become an issue later on as your business grows and more aspects hold you liable.”

Proprietorship costs vary by market. Generally, early expenses will include state and federal fees, taxes, business equipment leases , office space, banking fees, and any professional services your business contracts. Some examples of these businesses are freelance writers, tutors, bookkeepers , cleaning service providers and babysitters.

A sole proprietorship business structure has several advantages.

  • Easy setup: A sole proprietorship is the simplest legal structure to set up. If you – and only you – own your business, this might be the best structure. There is very little paperwork since you have no partners or executive boards.
  • Low cost: Costs vary by state, but generally, license fees and business taxes are the only fees associated with a proprietorship.
  • Tax deduction: Since you and your business are a single entity, you may be eligible for specific business sole proprietor tax deductions , such as a health insurance deduction.
  • Easy exit: Forming a proprietorship is easy, and so is ending one. As a single owner, you can dissolve your business at any time with no formal paperwork required. For example, if you start a day care center and wish to fold the business, refrain from operating the day care and advertising your services.

The sole proprietorship is also one of the most common small business legal structures. Many famous companies started as sole proprietorships and eventually grew into multimillion-dollar businesses. These are a few examples:

  • Marriott Hotels

Partnership 

A partnership is owned by two or more individuals. There are two types: a general partnership, where all is shared equally, and a limited partnership, where only one partner has control of operations and the other person (or persons) contributes to and receives part of the profits. Partnerships can operate as sole proprietorships, where there’s no separation between the partners and the business, or limited liability partnerships (LLPs), depending on the entity’s funding and liability structure.

“This entity is ideal for anyone who wants to go into business with a family member, friend or business partner – like running a restaurant or agency together,” Sweeney said. “A partnership allows the partners to share profits and losses and make decisions together within the business structure. Remember that you will be held liable for the decisions made as well as those actions made by your business partner.”

General partnership costs vary, but this structure is more expensive than a sole proprietorship because an attorney should review your partnership agreement. The attorney’s experience and location can affect the cost. 

A business partnership agreement must be a win-win for both sides to succeed. Google is an excellent example of this. In 1995, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin created a small search engine and turned it into the leading global search engine. The co-founders met at Stanford University while pursuing their doctorates and later left to develop a beta version of their search engine. Soon after, they raised $1 million in funding from investors, and Google began receiving thousands of visitors a day. Having a combined ownership of 11.4% of Google provides them with a total net worth of nearly $226.4 billion.

Business partnerships have many advantages. 

  • Easy formation: As with a sole proprietorship, there is little paperwork to file for a business partnership. If your state requires you to operate under a fictitious name ( “doing business as,” or DBA ), you’ll need to file a Certificate of Conducting Business as Partners and draft an Articles of Partnership agreement, both of which have additional fees. You’ll usually need a business license as well.
  • Growth potential: You’re more likely to obtain a business loan with more than one owner. Bankers can consider two credit histories rather than one, which can be helpful if you have a less-than-stellar credit score.
  • Special taxation: General partnerships must file federal tax Form 1065 and state returns, but they do not usually pay income tax. Both partners report their shared income or loss on their individual income tax returns. For example, if you opened a bakery with a friend and structured the business as a general partnership, you and your friend are co-owners. Each owner brings a certain level of experience and working capital to the business, affecting each partner’s business share and contribution. If you brought the most seed capital for the business, you and your partner may agree that you’ll retain a higher share percentage, making you the majority owner.

Partnerships are one of the most common business structures. These are some examples of successful partnerships:

  • Warner Bros.
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Ben & Jerry’s

Limited liability company 

A limited liability company (LLC) is a hybrid structure that allows owners, partners or shareholders to limit their personal liabilities while enjoying a partnership’s tax and flexibility benefits. Under an LLC, members are shielded from personal liability for the business’s debts if it can’t be proven that they acted in a negligent or wrongful manner that results in injury to another in carrying out the activities of the business.

“Limited liability companies were created to provide business owners with the liability protection that corporations enjoy while allowing earnings and losses to pass through to the owners as income on their personal tax returns,” said Brian Cairns, CEO of ProStrategix Consulting. “LLCs can have one or more members, and profits and losses do not have to be divided equally among members.”

According to Wolters Kluwer , the cost of forming an LLC comprises the state filing fee and can vary depending on your state. For example, if you file an LLC in New York, you must pay a $200 filing fee, a $9 biennial fee, and file a biennial statement with the New York Department of State .

Although small businesses can be LLCs, some large businesses choose this legal structure. The structure is typical among accounting, tax, and law firms, but other types of companies also file as LLCs. One example of an LLC is Anheuser-Busch, one of the leaders in the U.S. beer industry. Headquartered in St. Louis, Anheuser-Busch is a wholly owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev, a multinational brewing company based in Leuven, Belgium.

Here some other well-known examples of LLCs:

  • Hertz Rent-a-Car

Corporation 

The law regards a corporation as separate from its owners, with legal rights independent of its owners. It can sue, be sued, own and sell property, and sell the rights of ownership in the form of stocks. Corporation filing fees vary by state and fee category. 

There are several types of corporations, including C corporations , S corporations, B corporations, closed corporations, and nonprofit corporations.

  • C corporations: C corporations, owned by shareholders, are taxed as separate entities. JPMorgan Chase & Co. is a multinational investment bank and financial services holding company listed as a C corporation. Since C corporations allow an unlimited number of investors, many larger companies – including Apple, Bank of America and Amazon – file for this tax status.
  • B corporations: B corporations, otherwise known as benefit corporations, are for-profit entities committed to corporate social responsibility and structured to positively impact society. For example, skincare and cosmetics company The Body Shop has proven its long-term commitment to supporting environmental and social movements, resulting in an awarded B corporation status. The Body Shop uses its presence to advocate for permanent change on issues like human trafficking, domestic violence, climate change, deforestation and animal testing in the cosmetic industry.
  • Closed corporations: Closed corporations, typically run by a few shareholders, are not publicly traded and benefit from limited liability protection. Closed corporations, sometimes referred to as privately held companies, have more flexibility than publicly traded companies. For example, Hobby Lobby is a closed corporation – a privately held, family-owned business. Stocks associated with Hobby Lobby are not publicly traded; instead, the stocks have been allocated to family members.
  • Open corporations: Open corporations are available for trade on a public market. Many well-known companies, including Microsoft and Ford Motor Co., are open corporations. Each corporation has taken ownership of the company and allows anyone to invest.
  • Nonprofit corporations: Nonprofit corporations exist to help others in some way and are rewarded by tax exemption. Some examples of nonprofits are the Salvation Army, American Heart Association and American Red Cross. These organizations all focus on something other than turning a profit.

Corporations enjoy several advantages. 

  • Limited liability: Stockholders are not personally liable for claims against your corporation; they are liable only for their personal investments.
  • Continuity: Corporations are not affected by death or the transferring of shares by their owners. Your business continues to operate indefinitely, which investors, creditors and consumers prefer.
  • Capital: It’s much easier to raise large amounts of capital from multiple investors when your business is incorporated.

This structure is ideal for businesses that are further along in their growth, rather than a startup based in a living room. For example, if you’ve started a shoe company and have already named your business, appointed directors and raised capital through shareholders, the next step is to become incorporated. You’re essentially conducting business at a riskier, yet more lucrative, rate. Additionally, your business could file as an S corporation for the tax benefits. Once your business grows to a certain level, it’s likely in your best interest to incorporate it.

These are some popular examples of corporations:

  • General Motors
  • Exxon Mobil Corp.
  • Domino’s Pizza
  • JPMorgan Chase

Learn more about how to become a corporation .

Cooperative 

A cooperative (co-op) is owned by the same people it serves. Its offerings benefit the company’s members, also called user-owners, who vote on the organization’s mission and direction and share profits.

Cooperatives offer a couple main advantages.

  • Increased funding: Cooperatives may be eligible for federal grants to help them get started.
  • Discounts and better service: Cooperatives can leverage their business size, thus obtaining discounts on products and services for their members.

Forming a cooperative is complex and requires you to choose a business name that indicates whether the co-op is a corporation (e.g., Inc. or Ltd.). The filing fee associated with a co-op agreement varies by state. 

An example of a co-op is CHS Inc., a Fortune 100 business owned by U.S. agricultural cooperatives. As the nation’s leading agribusiness cooperative, CHS reported a net income of $422.4 million for fiscal year 2020. These are some other notable examples of co-ops:

  • Land O’Lakes
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Ace Hardware

Factors to consider before choosing a business structure

For new businesses that could fall into two or more of these categories, it’s not always easy to decide which structure to choose. Consider your startup’s financial needs, risk and ability to grow. It can be challenging to switch your legal structure after registering your business, so give it careful analysis in the early stages of forming your business. 

Here are some crucial factors to consider as you choose your business’s legal structure. You should also consult a CPA for advice.

Flexibility 

Where is your company headed, and which type of legal structure allows for the growth you envision? Turn to your business plan to review your goals and see which structure best aligns with those objectives. Your entity should support the possibility for growth and change, not hold it back from its potential. [Learn how to write a business plan with this template .]

When it comes to startup and operational complexity, nothing is more straightforward than a sole proprietorship. Register your name, start doing business, report the profits and pay taxes on it as personal income. However, it can be difficult to procure outside funding. Partnerships, on the other hand, require a signed agreement to define the roles and percentages of profits. Corporations and LLCs have various reporting requirements with state governments and the federal government.

A corporation carries the least amount of personal liability since the law holds that it is its own entity. This means creditors and customers can sue the corporation, but they can’t gain access to any personal assets of the officers or shareholders. An LLC offers the same protection but with the tax benefits of a sole proprietorship. Partnerships share the liability between the partners as defined by their partnership agreement.

An owner of an LLC pays taxes just as a sole proprietor does: All profit is considered personal income and taxed accordingly at the end of the year.

“As a small business owner, you want to avoid double taxation in the early stages,” said Jennifer Friedman, principal at Rivetr. “The LLC structure prevents that and makes sure you’re not taxed as a company, but as an individual.”

Individuals in a partnership also claim their share of the profits as personal income. Your accountant may suggest quarterly or biannual advance payments to minimize the effect on your return. 

A corporation files its own tax returns each year, paying taxes on profits after expenses, including payroll. If you pay yourself from the corporation, you will pay personal taxes, such as those for Social Security and Medicare, on your personal return. 

If you want sole or primary control of the business and its activities, a sole proprietorship or an LLC might be the best choice. You can negotiate such control in a partnership agreement as well.

A corporation is constructed to have a board of directors that makes the major decisions that guide the company. A single person can control a corporation, especially at its inception, but as it grows, so does the need to operate it as a board-directed entity. Even for a small corporation, the rules intended for larger organizations – such as keeping notes of every major decision that affects the company – still apply.

Capital investment

If you need to obtain outside funding from an investor, venture capitalist or bank, you may be better off establishing a corporation. Corporations have an easier time obtaining outside funding than sole proprietorships.

Corporations can sell shares of stock and secure additional funding for growth, while sole proprietors can obtain funds only through their personal accounts, using their personal credit or taking on partners. An LLC can face similar struggles, although, as its own entity, it’s not always necessary for the owner to use their personal credit or assets.

Licenses, permits and regulations

In addition to legally registering your business entity, you may need specific licenses and permits to operate. Depending on the type of business and its activities, it may need to be licensed at the local, state and federal levels.

“States have different requirements for different business structures,” Friedman said. “Depending on where you set up, there could be different requirements at the municipal level as well. As you choose your structure, understand the state and industry you’re in. It’s not ‘one size fits all,’ and businesses may not be aware of what’s applicable to them.”

The structures discussed here apply only to for-profit businesses. If you’ve done your research and you’re still unsure which business structure is right for you, Friedman advises speaking with a specialist in business law.

Max Freedman and Matt D’Angelo contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Types of Business Structures Explained

Author: Kody Wirth

13 min. read

Updated January 5, 2024

The choice you make about what type of business structure is appropriate for your company will affect how much you pay in taxes, the level of risk or liability to your personal assets (your house, your savings), and even your ability to raise money from angel investors or venture capitalists.

So, the structure you choose is significant.

This guide will explain the basics of common business structures, but we can’t tell you exactly which structure you should choose—if you need that kind of advice, you should consult a lawyer or an accountant.

  • Sole proprietorship

The simplest business structure is the sole proprietorship. If you don’t create a separate legal entity, your business is a sole proprietorship. 

The main advantage of the sole proprietorship is that it’s relatively simple and inexpensive. The disadvantage is that it doesn’t create a legal separation between you and your personal assets and business assets. If you’re sued or your business folds—your personal assets are fair game for creditors and in terms of legal liability.

Who is a sole proprietorship for?

A sole proprietorship is ideal for self-employed individuals like personal trainers offering individual coaching or artists selling unique items on platforms like Etsy.

Key considerations

  • Cost-effective setup: The primary expense is usually the DBA (“doing business as”) registration. Some states may require public notice, like a newspaper ad. Generally, the total cost is below $100.
  • Simplified taxation: Sole proprietorships are “pass-through” tax entities. Profits and losses are reported directly on the owner’s taxes, necessitating only a few additional tax forms if you’re the sole worker.
  • Hiring employees is possible: Being a “sole” proprietor doesn’t restrict hiring. If you employ others, tax processes become slightly more intricate.
  • Limited ways to raise funding: You can’t sell company stock, limiting fundraising avenues.
  • Potential loan difficulties: Banks might hesitate to grant loans to sole proprietorships due to perceived credibility issues.
  • Full personal liability: If the business faces debt or legal issues, your personal assets, including your home, car, and savings, are vulnerable.

Dig deeper:

Should you register as a sole proprietorship?

Explore the pros and cons of incorporating as a sole proprietorship.

How sole proprietorships are taxed

Understand how registering as a sole proprietor impacts your taxes.

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  • Partnerships

Still a relatively simple business structure, a partnership involves two or more individuals sharing ownership of their new business. They’ll contribute to the business in some way and share in profits and losses.

Partnerships are harder to describe because they change so much. State laws govern them, but the Uniform Partnership Act has become the law in most states. That act, however, mainly sets the specific partnership agreement as the real legal core of the partnership so that the legal details can vary widely.

Usually, the income or loss from partnerships passes through to the partners without any partnership tax. The agreements can define different levels of risk, which is why you’ll read about some partnerships with general and limited partners, with different levels of risk for each. Your partnership agreement should clearly define what happens if a partner withdraws, buy and sell arrangements for partners and liquidation arrangements if necessary.

What are the types of partnerships?

  • General partnership: Assumes equal involvement of all parties in profits, liabilities, and duties. Any intentional imbalance should be specified in the partnership agreement.
  • Limited partnership: Suited for partners in an investor role with limited involvement in daily operations. This structure is more complex and less common.
  • Joint venture: Designed for a single project or a limited duration, operating similarly to a general partnership.

Who is a partnership for?

A partnership is similar to an extended sole proprietorship and is ideal for two or more individuals wanting to start a business jointly. 

To make the partnership more effective, you and your partners should have skillsets, connections, or other unique benefits that complement each other. 

For example, a personal trainer and nutritionist building an online fitness program. One entrepreneur has experience building an exercise regiment with clients. The other understands how to create balanced meal and supplement recommendations. 

They have unique but complementary knowledge that, when combined, creates a more valuable product/service.

  • Partnership agreement: While not mandatory, it’s advisable to draft a partnership agreement, ideally reviewed by legal counsel, to clarify roles and responsibilities, ownership, and what will happen if a partner wants to leave the partnership.
  • Tax implications: Partnerships are “pass-through” entities, meaning profits and losses are directly passed to the partners. Refer to the IRS for partnership tax details.
  • Additional costs: Since it’s a good idea to have a lawyer look over your partnership agreement, don’t forget to factor in this added expense.
  • Trust in partnership: Ensure your partner is trustworthy, as partners share responsibility for business decisions and debts. A well-drafted partnership agreement can prevent future conflicts.

How to create a business partnership agreement

Even if you’re not in an official partnership, you should consider drafting a partnership agreement. Doing so will clearly define rights and responsibilities and help you amicably resolve any disputes.

How partnerships are taxed

Understand how registering as a partnership impacts your taxes.

Plan for changes with a buy-sell agreement

What will you do if you or your partner quits, sells their portion of the business, or passes away?

How to find the right business partner

A partnership is more than a legal structure. It’s a relationship between entrepreneurs who share a passion for an idea and bring unique skill sets. So, how do you find the right person to make your partnership thrive?…

Traits to look for in a business partner

What makes a good business partner? If you’re considering someone with the following traits, you likely have a good fit.

How many partners should you have?

What’s the ideal number of business partners? The right mix of people and skillsets can lead to tremendous business growth. But too many may lead to disaster.

What to do when your business partner is your life partner

Should your significant other be your business partner? Learn your legal options and how to find the right ownership fit for your business and relationship.

  • Limited liability company

Should your business fall on hard times, does the idea of being held personally responsible for all losses sound intimidating?

It’s understandable—plenty of would-be entrepreneurs shudder at the thought of the bank seizing their personal assets should the business go south.

A limited liability corporation (or LLC) is, in some ways, the best of both worlds. It allows for the flexibility of a partnership or sole proprietorship but, as the name suggests, limits the liability of those involved, similar to a corporation. An LLC is usually a lot like an S corporation. It offers a combination of some limitations on legal liability and some favorable tax treatment for profits and transfer of assets.

Who is a limited liability corporation for?

An LLC is ideal for those wary of personal liability in business. If you possess significant personal assets or operate in a lawsuit-prone industry—an LLC safeguards your personal finances. 

  • Complexity: While offering more protection, an LLC is harder to establish than a sole proprietorship or partnership.
  • Tax benefits: LLCs maintain “pass-through” tax status, meaning you’re taxed only on your profit share, which is reported on personal taxes. 
  • Single-member LLCs: Most states allow single-person LLCs, making it a potential alternative to sole proprietorships.

How to form a limited liability company

Interested in forming an LLC? Here are the steps you’ll need to take.

How to create an LLC operating agreement

Set the rules for how your LLC will operate, including the management structure, individual responsibilities, ownership percentage, and other important information.

LLC costs and fees explained

Make sure you’re aware of all the costs and fees associated with forming an LLC.

How LLCs are taxed

Understand how registering as an LLC impacts your taxes.

  • Corporations

Shareholders, a more complex legal structure, and more intricate tax requirements are all characteristics of a corporation.

Corporations are either the standard C corporation, the small business S corporation, or the benefit corporation or B corp. The C corporation is the classic legal entity of the vast majority of successful companies in the United States.

Corporations can switch from C to S and back again, but not often. The IRS has strict rules for when and how those switches are made. You’ll almost always want to have your CPA, and in some cases, your attorney, guide you through the legal requirements for switching.

Who is a corporation for?

Corporations are best suited for larger, established businesses with multiple employees, plans for rapid scaling, or intentions to trade or attract significant external investments publicly. A corporation might not be the right choice if you’re a small business owner or work with a small team.

What are the types of corporations?

C corporation.

What we typically think of when we refer to corporations, where all shareholders combine funds and are then given stock in the newly formed business. 

A C corp is a separate tax entity, meaning your business can deduct taxes. It also means that earnings can be taxed twice, as they are concerning your business and your personal taxes if you take income as dividends. However, good tax planning can often minimize the impact of double taxation.

Most lawyers would agree (but verify this with your lawyer who is familiar with your unique business) that the C corporation is the structure that provides the best shielding from personal liability for owners, and provides the best non-tax benefits to owners. Many companies with ambitions of raising major investment capital and eventually going public consider the C corporation.

S corporation

An S corp is similar to a traditional C corporation, with one major difference: Profits and losses can be “passed through” to your personal tax return without being taxed separately first.

In practical terms, the owners can take their profits home without first paying the corporation’s separate tax on profits. In most states, an S corporation is owned by a limited number of private owners (25 is a common maximum), and only individuals (not corporations) can hold stock in S corporations.

To become an S corp, you must first set your business up as a corporation within your state and then request S corp status. The IRS instructions for Form 2553 (which you’ll need to file to become an S corp) can help you determine if you qualify.

B corporation

Does your company have a dedicated social mission, a good cause built into its foundation that you’d like to continue furthering as your company grows? If so, you might consider becoming a B corporation, which stands for “benefit corporation.” 

However, the name is a bit misleading; a B corp isn’t an entirely different structure than a regular C corporation. It’s a C corp vetted and approved for B corp status. Some states give tax breaks to B corps, and it’s a great way to stand behind a cause.

So, why would you choose a B corp over a nonprofit? The biggest difference is in ownership—with a nonprofit, no owners or shareholders exist. A B corp, which is still a type of corporation, still has shareholders who own the company. So, a B corp has a social mission but is still a for-profit company (as opposed to a nonprofit) with an end goal of returning profits to the shareholders.

  • Liability: Corporations offer the most protection for personal assets.
  • Capital raising: The ability to sell stock enhances investment potential.
  • Taxation: Corporate taxes are separate (except for S corps), but the structure can lead to double taxation, especially for C corporations.
  • Complexity: Establishing a corporation is more intricate than other business structures, requiring more paperwork and formalities.

How to form a corporation

Follow these ten steps to incorporate as a C, S, or B corporation.

How are corporations taxed?

Understand how registering as a corporation impacts your taxes.

S corporation basics

Should you choose an S corp as the legal structure for your business? Learn the basics and what alternatives are available.

B corporation basics

Should you choose a B corp as the legal structure for your business? Check out this detailed overview of how this business entity functions and the pros and cons you’ll contend with.

A nonprofit is a “not-for-profit” business structure, meaning the business does not exist to generate revenue for shareholders, but rather funnel business revenue into a social mission, cause, or purpose.

Who is a nonprofit for?

Nonprofits cater to those with missions centered on charitable, educational, scientific, or religious purposes. Examples include homeless shelters, conservation groups, arts centers, and educational institutions.

What’s the difference between a nonprofit and a cooperative?

Like a nonprofit, a cooperative is a business with a social mission that doesn’t divide income between shareholders but toward a cause or purpose. However, while some states view nonprofits and cooperatives as the same, a cooperative differs because the members own it, referred to as “user-owners.”

If you plan on organizing your business to be democratically owned, looking into the cooperative business structure might be a good idea to look into the cooperative business structure .

  • Complex setup: Establishing a nonprofit requires steps similar to forming a corporation, including filing articles of incorporation, creating bylaws, and organizing board meetings.
  • Fundraising will be your main priority: Nonprofits generally rely on fundraising and grants to keep a flow of income into their business.

What is a nonprofit corporation and how to start one

Learn the basics of setting up a nonprofit corporation.

How to earn income as a nonprofit corporation

Learn how related and unrelated business activities can generate revenue for a nonprofit corporation.

  • Making your business legally compliant

Choosing a business structure is the first legal step you’ll take. Your choice will impact your taxes, fundraising, and personal liability. 

Tim Berry, founder of Palo Alto Software (maker of Bplans) reminds small business and startup founders that choosing a business entity or structure is something to take seriously. He says:

“Make sure you know which legal steps you must take to be in business. I’m not an attorney, and I don’t give legal advice. I strongly recommend working with an attorney to review the details of your company’s legal establishment and licensing. The trade-offs involved in incorporation versus partnership versus other structures are significant. Small problems developed at the early stages of a new business can become horrendous problems later on. In this regard, the cost of simple legal advice is almost always worth it. Don’t skimp on legal costs.”

TLDR: Take time, carefully weigh your options, and consult a legal professional.

Once you’ve chosen, check off the remaining legal requirements to start a business. While you can complete most of these in any order, here are a few suggestions.

  • Apply for a federal and state tax ID
  • Obtain licenses and permits
  • Register your business name

Content Author: Kody Wirth

Kody Wirth is a content writer and SEO specialist for Palo Alto Software—the creator's of Bplans and LivePlan. He has 3+ years experience covering small business topics and runs a part-time content writing service in his spare time.

Check out LivePlan

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Sole Proprietorship

Partnership, limited liability company (llc), corporation, templates and examples to download in word and pdf formats, how to choose the best legal structure for your business.

Deciding on a specific type of legal structure when you've just started your business journey can be complicated. It's hard to know exactly what the differences are, how the different structures can benefit you, and what any risks might be.

Luckily, it doesn't have to be so complicated! In fact, we've published this guide on everything you need to know about choosing the right legal structure for your business to help you along the way.

The most common business structures are sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies, and corporations. Here, you'll learn about each one in detail to help you choose the right fit for your business, as well as a non-profit, which you might consider for a new charitable business.

What type of structure you choose will make a big difference over the life of your business. It can have significant tax implications, as well as implications for your personal level of risk. It is not a decision that should be made lightly.

Below, we examine each common business structure in detail.

A sole proprietorship is the simplest type of business structure and the easiest to form and maintain. A sole proprietorship is basically a business that is you - and you are the business! For example, if you were a freelance writer on the internet and wanted to operate as a sole proprietorship, you wouldn't have to do anything at all to already be up and running, as long as you wanted to operate under your name.

In a sole proprietorship, no separate legal entity is created. If you'd like to operate under a special name, like a new business name or just a different name other than your own legal name, you would file what is called a "Doing Business As" (or DBA, as it is referred to) document with your state. All this document does is tell the state that you, as a legal person, are doing business under the name you've chosen for your business.

Because of the simplicity of the sole proprietorship, the way that your taxes are handled is also fairly simple. The taxes of the sole proprietorship would "pass through" to you, meaning you report any profit or loss on your own taxes and don't have to go through a separate process for the business.

One of the biggest drawbacks to a sole proprietorship is that you can be personally on the hook for any business liabilities - whether you make a big financial loss one year or whether your business gets sued. That's because in a sole proprietorship, there is no separation between you as a person and you as a business, so anything you own, in terms of assets, may be up-for-grabs by any creditors or the public to whom you are facing liability.

Another big drawback is that you may have a hard time raising any money. In a sole proprietorship, you can't issue stock in the company, so it could be hard to attract capital investors. You also may not have much success getting a bank loan, because banks generally don't favor lending to sole proprietorships.

How to form a sole proprietorship

To create a sole proprietorship, as mentioned above, you wouldn't have to file anything with your state other than a DBA, if you'd like. There can be fees associated with the DBA form, which vary per state. But keep in mind you might have separate documents to file, depending on your business. These could include special licenses or permits.

Why you might choose a sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is a good idea if you are a solopreneur with a small business and you are planning to keep it that way. It's very easy to form (you either have to file no documents or just one DBA) and you can get focused on starting your business right away. It's also very cheap to get started.

Especially if your business may not be facing a high level of risk, a sole proprietorship might be for you. A sole proprietorship wouldn't be recommended if, let's say, you ran a business that dealt with large amounts of other people's money on a regular business, or as a health professional, or really any area where the risk of being liable for something serious is high.

Final overview

Sole proprietorship benefits:.

1. It's cheap and easy to form.

2. Taxes are easy to keep track of.

3. You still have the option to have employees if you would like.

Sole proprietorship drawbacks:

1. There is a high level of personal risk for liabilities.

2. You may have difficulty raising funds.

If a sole proprietorship is the simplest business structure for an individual looking to operate their own small business, a partnership might be considered that for two or more people.

In a partnership, the two or more "partners," as they are called, each generally have a say in how the company runs (depending on the structure of the partnership) and each own a piece of the company, including its profits and losses.

In a partnership, you can also have different types of partners - general partners and limited partners - or you can have just a general partnership with all the same types of partners. General partners are equally responsible for everything: all the profits, any potential losses, any liabilities that might come up, and general responsibility for the company, including the amount of work done. Limited partners are those that are basically only partners for a financial reason, in that they invest but have not much else to do with how the company runs. Overall, partnerships with limited partners are a little rarer, as people like to go into partnerships with equal weight.

Imagine a situation where two people decide to open a yoga studio together. Their structure of choice may be a partnership.

A joint venture, formed with a Joint Venture Agreement , is a type of general partnership that only lasts for one specific project or a limited amount of time.

Joint venture is a generic term for any business relationship between two parties for a limited time. A joint venture could be for a brand new business, or just one marketing promotion, or even just a project between two already-formed businesses. In a joint venture, the parties could decide to form a temporary partnership, with a Partnership Agreement , but they don't have to: they can also retain their fully separate legal identities and just operate with a Joint Venture Agreement.

Taxes in a partnership can pass through, just like in a sole proprietorship.

The formation of a partnership, however, can be very complicated. Many states have adopted something called the Uniform Partnership Act, which makes the written Partnership Agreement very important. Partners will need to figure out everything from how they'll run the day-to-day business to what happens if the business folds or if someone wants to leave.

The Uniform Partnership Act is similar to a model statute or model law, in that it was drafted to be applicable uniformly, but states each had to individually adopt it. The Uniform Partnership Act, or UPA, gives guidance on how business partnerships should be formed, governed, and dissolved.

How to form a partnership

As mentioned above, the basis of partnership formation is the written Partnership Agreement, which sets out all of the details of the business relationship between the parties. Unless you also want to file a DBA, you won't need to file any partnership documents with your state.

Keep in mind, however, that as above, you may need specific licenses or permits for your particular business model.

Why you might choose a partnership

A partnership is a good idea if you are running a small business with another individual or a few individuals. As with a sole proprietorship, it's very easy to form (you either have to file no documents with the state or just one DBA) and you can get focused on starting your business right away. It's also very cheap to get started, just like a sole proprietorship.

If you're not sure of the trustworthiness of your potential partners, however, a partnership may not be the way to go for you, as you could be exposing yourself to a high level of risk just because of the actions of your partners. Either way, however, you should always have a well-written Partnership Agreement in place.

Partnership benefits:

1. It's relatively cheap to form.

2. Generally, unless you have a DBA, you won't need to file with the state.

3. Taxes pass through.

Partnership drawbacks:

1. The Partnership Agreement can be a complicated document.

2. It can be very risky if your partners are not trustworthy.

A Limited Liability Company, or LLC for short, has largely become the preferred form of structure for many small- to medium-sized businesses, and even for a lot of solo business owners. The reason for this is because it has a lot of benefits of other types of business structures, without as much of the risk.

In an LLC, there is a lot of customization available for how the business is run. LLCs can be used for small businesses or large ones. You can form an LLC just for yourself or have an LLC with many different members. The main benefit of an LLC is that your personal assets are shielded from liability - hence the name, "limited liability" company.

Taxes still pass through in LLCs. If you are a single-member LLC, the taxation is similar to a sole proprietorship. In a multi-member LLC, you are taxed on just your portion of the profits.

LLCs can, therefore, be formed for almost any purpose - for a single freelance artist or a group of people looking to open a bakery together, for example. LLCs can even be formed for professionals, like a legal or medical practice.

Since all business structures are formed according to the state, and not federal, government, the requirements to file and run the business, especially for the more complicated structures, can vary.

Forming an LLC is more complicated than either a sole proprietorship or partnership, as it involves filing specific documents in a specific form with the state.

How to form an LLC

An LLC is generally filed with your state by drafting Articles of Organization , the creation document for the company. Before this, you'll also have to ensure that you have a business name that will work by running a search on your proposed business name with your state's Secretary of State (usually this can be done easily on the Secretary of State website). An Operating Agreement is also a very good idea to have drafted (though it is not required), especially if you have more than one LLC member.

If you would like to operate under a special name for your LLC, you may also have to file a DBA.

Why you might choose an LLC

An LLC is a good idea when you want to have the maximum amount of liability protection for your business, either as a solo business owner or as part of a team and you don't want to build a corporation (more on that below). It's also a good idea if you still want the simplicity of taxation and the ability to organize your business as you like.

Whenever you file your LLC, make sure you keep all of the records separate to ensure your liability protection. Your organizational records, banking records, and, if applicable, personnel records all need to be records of the LLC specifically, not mixed in with your own personal records.

LLC benefits:

1. You are protected from personal liability.

2. Taxes pass through.

LLC drawbacks:

1. It's a little more expensive and complicated to form than a sole proprietorship or partnership.

2. Your liability is subject to the separateness of all of your records.

A corporation is generally the most complex legal structure , involving a lot of time and resources at its formation and then on through its life. A corporation is its own separate entity - often sometimes compared to a business version of a legal "person." In other words, the corporation is its own body separate and apart from you or any of the other owners, called "shareholders."

A corporation can take one of three main forms: the C corporation, the S corporation, or the lesser-known B corporation.

Most big companies in the United States, like Fortune 500 companies, are organized into a C corporation. It's the "traditional" corporate structure that people think of when they think of corporations. In a C corp, there are owners, called shareholders as noted above, who all put money into the business and receive shares, or stock, in return. The corporation gets taxed on its own - but so do any shareholder earnings, which means that with corporations, there is what's called "double taxation." All that means is that money into the corporation gets taxed as does money to the shareholders. In a C corp, there is almost no personal liability of the shareholders. Additionally, there is the possibility of the shareholders earning a lot of income if the corporation ever goes public.

The S corporation is a slightly different entity, similar to the C corp, but with the possibility of pass-through taxation. As discussed in the other business forms, what this means is that profits and losses can go straight to the owner or owners of the S corp, making it a good idea for small businesses. The S corp is a little more limited than the C corp in most states, however, as it can usually only be held by a certain limit of private individuals (for example, up to 25 owners that all have to be real people, rather than legal entities).

A B corporation is a lesser-known structure than the others and that's because it won't be applicable to most people. B Corps are designed for those that want to form essentially a C corporation but for some social good. The B stands for "benefit." A B Corp is very similar to a C Corp, except that sometimes the corporation receives certain tax breaks.

How to form a Corporation

Corporations are formed by filing a significant document covering the details of the corporation with the Secretary of State, called the Articles of Incorporation . Most corporations need to have a viable business name and go on to obtain a tax identification number from the Internal Revenue Service.

It's a good idea to also draft a document called the Corporate Bylaws , which set down the governing rules for the corporation.

Why you might choose a Corporation

You might decide to file a corporation if you are looking for a lot of growth potential for your business or if you knew you wanted to start bringing on shareholders right away. A corporation is a good idea if you plan to hire a lot of employees, as well.

It's probably not a good idea for very small business or individuals who don't plan to grow at a very high rate, as the expense of setting up and maintaining the structure, as well as the double taxation, would easily make it more cumbersome than its worth.

Corporation benefits:

2. Raising capital may be easier here than any other business form.

Corporation drawbacks:

1. It's more expensive and complicated to form than any other business form.

2. It's also complicated and expensive to maintain.

3. Double taxation may end up costing you more.

A non-profit is different than all of the other business structures - and the difference is in its name. Non-profits are created for a different reason than just generating profit; usually, the reason is some kind of social cause.

Non-profits are tax-exempt entities, and because of this, they need to have a specific purpose that is either charitable, religious, or educational.

How to form a Non-profit

Forming a non-profit requires Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State. You'll then need to file specifically to obtain tax-exempt status from both your state and the federal government.

If you plan to have multiple people in your non-profit, drafting Non-Profit Bylaws is a good idea.

Why you might choose a Non-profit

The option for a non-profit is really only there if you have a business that is for charitable, religious, or educational purposes. Once you decide that you do, then you must ensure you really aren't running a business for profit and that the primary purpose is for another reason. If those requirements are met, the non-profit is the best choice for you.

If you'd like to run a business for a social cause, but still want to have the main goal of earning a profit, a B corporation might be better suited to your needs. With a non-profit, one of the main activities will simply have to be fundraising to keep the business afloat. In a B corporation, however, you can do good and still turn a profit.

Non-profit benefits:

1. Tax-exempt status can be obtained.

2. It's the best structure for any primarily charitable business.

Non-profit drawbacks:

1. You must meet the requirements to open a non-profit.

2. Your business can't be run primarily to earn a profit.

When deciding what type of structure might be best for you, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How much time and effort am I willing to put in to set up the business at the beginning?

2. How much time and effort am I willing to put in to maintain the business over time?

3. Is pass-through taxation important to me?

4. What will be personal liabilities be?

5. Am I interested in easily raising capital?

Once you've asked yourself these questions, with the knowledge obtained from this guide, you'll be in a great place to decide what the best structure is for your needs.

About the Author: Anjali Nowakowski is a Legal Templates Programmer at Wonder.Legal and is based in the U.S.A.

  • Partnership Agreement
  • Articles Of Organization
  • Non-Profit Bylaws
  • Corporate Bylaws
  • Articles Of Incorporation

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Start » startup, getting ready to launch how to choose the right business structure.

Choosing the right business structure can be tricky. We walk you through the pros and cons of each.

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When you first start a business, your mind may be swimming with an endless number of tough decisions to make. One of those – choosing the proper legal “corporate form” – can be a complicated endeavor. You do not have to overthink it, though, and your initial decision is not necessarily set in stone. Plenty of huge companies started as sole proprietorships before shifting to a more complicated corporate form, and so too, many small startups have unnecessarily burned precious startup capital on lawyers for too-complicated legal structures.

Here then are some of the basic pros and cons to think about when structuring your small business.

Sole proprietorship

Contrary to popular belief, you do not necessarily need to set up any type of formal structure before launching a business. In fact, most of us have run a sole proprietorship without even knowing it. If you ever got paid directly for babysitting or mowing a lawn, you were running a sole proprietorship. A sole proprietorship is simply a business owner who runs a business without any formal corporate structure. They simply report their profits and losses on their personal tax return (or at least they should).

Ideally, you will create a separate checking account for your proprietorship and keep good records of any profits and losses. That will be important come tax time. You should also register the name of your business with the state and you may also need local business licenses. That said, all in all, setting up a sole proprietorship requires only a very minimal amount of time, effort and expense.

The best thing about a sole proprietorship is that it is easy to create and maintain. Setting up many types of corporate forms can cost anywhere from $50 to thousands of dollars, but that is not the case with a sole proprietorship.

The biggest drawback of sole proprietorships is the potential for personal liability. For example, if you chose to incorporate your business instead, your corporation is a separate legal entity apart from you. The corporation, not you personally, is liable for the business’ debts and liabilities.

This is not true for a sole proprietorship.

If you are working as a sole proprietor and your company gets into trouble, you and your business are one and the same. For example, a woman in Pennsylvania that ran a grocery store as a sole proprietor for many years was recently forced into bankruptcy. She now personally owes her grocery store's bakers and vendors, and a judge may sell her home to try to pay the debts of her store.

The other drawback is obvious. A sole proprietorship can only have the one sole owner. If you want your business to survive you, or you want to go into business with someone else, you will need to choose another entity.

[Read our full guide on sole proprietorships ]

General partnership

The easiest way for two or more people to go into business together is to form a general partnership . Like a sole proprietor, general partners usually do not need to file any formal paperwork, although having a written partnership agreement that spells out duties, responsibilities and financials is strongly advised. Partners generally share profits and losses equally, jointly run the business, invest money together, and own property together.

General partnerships are easy to form, and the profits (or losses) of the partnership are reported on the partners’ personal tax returns. One of the biggest risks of a partnership, however, is that each partner can make decisions for the whole, typically unilaterally, and yet all partners are responsible for that decision.

Similarly, as with a sole proprietorship, each partner is personally liable for the debts of the business. There is no corporate shield. Additionally, a partnership can be said to be formed by the actions of the participants even if they did not intend to start a partnership. One final big limitation with partnerships is that they are usually destroyed when one partner leaves.

[Read our full guide on general partnerships .]

Contrary to popular belief, you do not necessarily need to set up any type of formal structure before launching a business.

C corporation

A corporation is a legal entity that has two main features: (1) limited liability, and (2) infinite life. Both of these should be attractive to an entrepreneur. As indicated, limited liability is very important because it allows people to enter into a business without putting their personal assets at risk. For example, if you bought stock in Coca Cola, you would not want to personally be sued if the company sold a tainted batch of soda. Instead, if Coca Cola goes bankrupt, its shareholders would only lose the money they put into the company.

“Infinite life” means just that. A corporation can live on as long as its shareholders keep it alive. A sole proprietorship will obviously die when that sole proprietor dies or quits the business. A corporation is owned by its shareholders, though, and will carry on even as some shareholders quit, sell their shares, or die.

Corporations have a tremendous amount of flexibility in how they are formed, but probably the most important distinction for a small business is choosing a tax treatment. A " C corporation " is one that chooses to pay the corporate income tax directly to the government (as opposed to flowing through to the owner’s personal return.) Most large companies like Xerox and Amazon are C corporations, which refers to Subchapter C of Chapter 1 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Limited liability and endless flexibility. As mentioned previously, the main reason to create a corporation is to limit the liability of the business owners. A corporation can be set up in an infinite number of ways with all kinds of formal management processes in place. Additionally, major investors who often work with corporations will not get involved if the business is structured any other way.

Double taxation and complicated setup. C corps are subject to double taxation, that means that the company is taxed once on earnings, and then shareholders are taxed again on distributions. This process has been made less painful by recent changes to the U.S. tax code, but corporations in the United States are still taxed at 21%.

[Read our full article on C Corp.'s]

S corporation

S corps are often the preferred legal structure for many a small business because of

  • Limited liability
  • Tax savings

S corps are "pass-through" entities, meaning, while the owners still get the benefits of limited personal liability, profits from the corporation flow through directly to the owner’s personal taxes. S corps therefore are not taxed separately. The IRS has strict requirements for S corps, but there is no actual limit on the size of an S corp.

Limited liability and tax relief. S corps come with all the limited liability benefits of any other corporation, while still allowing the business to be structured a number of ways. The IRS restricts some things for S corps that a C corp can do, though; for example, a C corp can have more than one class of stock, while an S corp cannot.

The most important thing about an S corp is that it avoids double taxation . S corps can make distributions to its owners that are not subject to income tax or self-employment taxes. In order to keep S corps from using that rule to completely avoid paying employment taxes, the IRS does require S corps to pay market-rate salaries to its owners.

A more complicated setup. S corps can sometimes be relatively complicated to set up, and simple mistakes can cost an S corp its status. A professional should usually be involved.

Limited liability company

Limited liability companies, or LLCs, are a relatively new corporate form that was invented in Wyoming in 1977 at the behest of an oil company seeking to launch a new venture that would be run like a partnership, have limited liability, and also avoid double taxation at the federal level. Wyoming did not have a state income tax at the time, so, since the state legislature did not have to worry about losing tax revenues, it agreed to try it.

Florida created a similar scheme in 1982 and the U.S. Congress started to pay attention. In a 1986 tax reform bill, Congress blessed the LLC concept, and today LLCs can be formed in every state that will be honored in every other state. In fact, LLCs have become “undeniability the most popular form of new business entity in the United States” despite being somewhat new.

The best of both worlds. LLCs were created to allow owners to enjoy all of the best parts of the other corporate forms, so they have a lot of pros.

  • LLCs are easy to form, and, if used properly, provide limited liability like any other corporation. Forming an LLC is typically as easy as filling out a form and paying around $10.
  • An LLC is easily managed by its members, who vote in proportion with their membership. So, if a two-member LLC is owned 60% by one member, that member basically makes all the decisions. LLCs can also have one member, making it a “single-member LLC” that runs just like a sole proprietorship but with limited liability protections.
  • LLCs can also grow to have hundreds of members that oversee the business while hiring extensive teams of managers to run the business.

When set up correctly, an LLC can be taxed however you want . LLCs are often treated as “disregarded entities” where the LLC’s activities are accounted for on its owners’ tax returns, just like a sole proprietorship or partnership. LLCs can also be set up as an S corp tax-wise, or they can elect to pay corporate income taxes to avoid passing through profits and losses to their members.

The cons of an LLC are few and far between. There is some cost to creating them, typically ranging from $50 to $500. LLCs are limited in their ownership structure, as they cannot sell non-voting shares the way a corporation can. LLCs cannot deviate from being member-controlled, either. For these reasons, investors are somewhat leery of the LLC, making them unsuitable for most large businesses and for small companies hoping to grow rapidly.

[Read our full guide to LLC' s]

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legal structure of business plan

  January 23, 2024

Business structure types: how to choose the best legal structure for your business .

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When starting a business, one critical decision every entrepreneur must make is choosing the most suitable entity structure. The entity structure you choose will not only lay the foundation for legal and operational aspects, but it will also play a significant role in determining your business’s tax implications and liabilities.

What Is a Business Legal Structure? 

Before registering your business with the state you’ll be operating in, you’ll need to choose a business structure. A business structure is the formal organization and classification of a business entity, determining how it is legally recognized and operates. This structure defines the relationships between the business and its owners, as well as the level of liability protection, tax implications, and operational flexibility. Common structures include:

  • Sole Proprietorships
  • Partnerships
  • Corporations
  • S Corporations
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC)

When choosing a business structure, it is important to consult with both attorneys and accountants as correcting unfavorable entity structures carries limitations, restrictions, compliance, and tax consequences.

Why Is a Business Legal Structure Important

The business legal structure is a foundational aspect that affects liability, taxation, governance, and overall operations. A well-chosen business legal structure is crucial for several reasons, including providing clarity on ownership, managing liability, and influencing the business's tax treatment.

As you set up your new business, you should be looking beyond the immediate future and considering what is essential for the long-term success and sustainability of the business.

Types of Business Structures

Each type of business structure has distinct characteristics that suit different business needs and goals. Understanding these structures helps entrepreneurs make informed decisions about the legal framework that best aligns with their business objectives and circumstances.

Below, we’ve outlined various types of entity structures, as well as some key considerations for making your decision. This list is non-exhaustive and meant solely as a primer. We always recommend consulting with your tax partner as well as a lawyer before forming a new business entity, as there are both legal and tax effects of this decision an expert will be able to guide you through.

Sole Proprietorship

Although the simplicity and ease of setup (and closure) make a sole proprietorship an attractive option for one-person businesses, the personal liability can be a drawback. With a sole proprietorship, the owner is personally responsible for all debts and obligations as a separate business entity is not created. Although you will be able to take a trade name, you will not be able to sell stock. Sole proprietorship is a safe, low-risk choice for business owners who want to try something out—not for businesses looking to quickly expand and fold in more leadership.

General Partnership

A general partnership is ideal for businesses with two or more owners who want to share decision-making and profits. Much like a sole proprietorship, a general partnership means each partner will be responsible for all of the business’s debts and obligations, and they share liability and risk.

General partnerships are easy to both set up and dissolve, and taxes are simpler to file as you will not have to pay corporate taxes due to the pass-through structure.

Limited Partnership 

A Limited Partnership is a business structure consisting of at least one general partner and one or more limited partners. The general partner assumes unlimited personal liability for the business's debts and obligations, while limited partners enjoy liability protection. This limits their losses to the amount they have personally invested in the partnership. Limited Partnerships are often favored for ventures where investors want to contribute capital without actively participating in the management and decision-making processes.

Limited Liability Partnership 

A Limited Liability Partnership is a flexible business structure combining elements of partnerships and corporations. In an LLP, all partners have limited liability, protecting their personal assets from the business's debts and liabilities.

Unlike general partnerships, LLPs allow every partner to actively participate in the management and decision-making processes, making it a popular choice for professional services firms such as law or accounting firms. However, individual partners remain personally responsible for their professional conduct and the consequences of their own errors or omissions.

Limited Liability Company

Unlike a sole proprietorship or a partnership, an LLC provides the benefits of limited liability protection while maintaining flexibility in management and tax treatment. By choosing an LLC, if or when your business faces bankruptcy or lawsuits, your personal assets won’t be at risk. LLCs offer pass-through taxation where profits and losses flow through to individual tax returns.

However, ownership within LLCs can be complicated, with some states requiring a dissolution if a member leaves. In order to prepare for such circumstances, business owners should work with an attorney to create an agreement that includes how ownership transfer, buying, and selling are handled within the entity.

Corporation

The law regards a corporation as separate from its owners, with legal rights independent of its owners. A corporation can sue and be sued, own and sell property, and sell the rights of its ownership in the form of stocks. Although corporations have extensive rights, they also require more extensive record-keeping, operational processes, and reporting to maintain those rights. The two most common corporation types are:

  • C Corporation: A C corporation provides limited liability protection to shareholders and facilitates easier access to capital through stock issuance. However, it is subject to double taxation at the corporate level on profits and at the individual level on dividends.
  • S Corporation: An S corporation combines limited liability protection with the pass-through taxation benefits of partnerships and LLCs. Creating an s corporation is subject to specific eligibility criteria, including restrictions on the number and type of shareholders, and requires filing with the IRS in order to gain S corp status.

Nonprofit Corporation

Although nonprofits are also a type of corporation, there are some distinct differences that separate them from the other types. Nonprofits are legal entities organized and operated for a collective, public, or social benefit.

Because there is less of a focus on profit, nonprofit corporations receive tax exemption, but applying for nonprofit status requires filing with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) corporation. How nonprofit corporations use their funds is also regulated, with things like political campaign spending being banned from acceptable expenses.

What Business Structure Should I Choose?

Looking at the different types of entity structures, it’s easy to see how a new business might fall into two or more of the categories, making it hard to know which entity is the right choice. Careful consideration of the following factors is essential to ensure the chosen structure aligns with the business's objectives and maximizes opportunities for growth and tax efficiency.

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10 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Business Structure

When examining liability, you should assess the potential risks and liabilities associated with the business and choose a structure that shields personal assets from business obligations. While a corporation carries the least amount of personal liability since the law holds it is its own entity, entities like sole proprietorships hold the most. Partnerships share the liability between the partners as defined by their partnership agreement.

Evaluate the tax advantages and disadvantages of each structure, considering both current and future tax obligations. An owner of an LLC pays taxes just as a sole proprietor does, with all profit considered as personal income and taxed accordingly at the end of the year, while a corporation files its own tax returns each year, paying taxes on profits after expenses. With your accountant’s guidance, consider factors such as pass-through taxation, self-employment taxes, and potential tax planning opportunities.

Determine the desired ownership and management structure based on the number of owners, their roles, and the decision-making process. If you’re seeking primary control, you should pursue a sole proprietorship or LLC, while corporations are constructed with a board of directors who guides the company’s decision making. Control in a partnership is negotiated.

Flexibility

Assess the different structures and how they offer varying degrees of flexibility in terms of management, decision-making, and distribution of profits. Sole proprietorships and partnerships provide more flexibility, while corporations may have more rigid structures with defined roles and responsibilities.

Each structure comes with its own set of legal and regulatory requirements. Sole proprietorships and partnerships generally have fewer compliance obligations, but they may lack the liability protection of more formal structures. Corporations, on the other hand, often face more stringent compliance requirements due to their legal status. Understanding and adhering to these regulations are crucial for avoiding legal issues and ensuring the business operates within the boundaries of the law.

Assess the potential need for external funding and the preferences of potential investors. If you need to obtain outside funding from an investor, corporations may be more attractive to venture capitalists and investors, who will provide capital in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity.

Business Continuity

Consider the business's growth trajectory and long-term goals, as well as the potential for mergers, acquisitions, or an eventual sale. Certain entity structures may offer more flexibility and tax advantages for future exit strategies.

Administrative Requirements

In addition to legally registering your business entity, you also may need specific licenses and permits to operate. Depending on the type of business you’re forming and its activities, it may need to be licensed at the local, state, and federal levels.

Ownership Transferability

Ownership transferability is a key consideration for those looking to establish a business that may undergo changes in ownership over time. Sole proprietorships and partnerships may face challenges in transferring ownership, as it often involves reorganizing the entire business. Corporations, particularly those with publicly traded shares, offer greater ease in transferring ownership through buying and selling shares in the stock market. Considering the long-term goals and potential changes in ownership can guide the selection of a business structure that aligns with the desired level of transferability.

Costs are a practical and financial aspect that entrepreneurs must carefully evaluate when choosing a business structure. The costs associated with formation, maintenance, and compliance vary significantly between structures. Sole proprietorships and partnerships are generally more cost-effective to establish and maintain, with fewer administrative requirements. Corporations may involve higher initial costs and ongoing fees, but they often provide greater access to capital and potential tax advantages. Balancing the upfront and ongoing expenses against the benefits each structure offers is crucial for making a financially sound decision.

Contact Mowery & Schoenfeld for Help Choosing the Right Legal Structure for Your Business 

Deciding on the most appropriate entity structure is a complex task that requires careful analysis and understanding of legal, operational, and tax implications. This is a complicated process which requires professional insight. Before selecting an entity, schedule a meeting with Mowery & Schoenfeld today to help you navigate choosing a legal structure that’s tax effective for your situation.

How to choose the right business structure for you

Which legal business structure makes the most sense for you often depends on your future plans for your company.

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by   Marcia Layton Turner

​Marcia Layton Turner writes regularly about small business and real estate. Her work has appeared in Entrepreneur, B...

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Updated on: April 5, 2023 · 4 min read

Yor business structure opptions

Four factors to consider.

Many small businesses are started at kitchen tables or in garages, without much thought about taxes, liability, complexity, or future plans. However, those four issues play a major role in determining which structure makes the most sense for your business.

"A business structure is the legal form of your business," says Rob Stephens, founder of CFO Perspective . "This legal form determines what licensing you need , what taxes you will pay, and what legal rights your business has."

Every entrepreneur's situation is different, which makes choosing a business structure a very personal decision. But remember that you can opt to change your company's existing structure if you realize that another format would be more advantageous to you or your company.

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In the U.S., you can choose from four basic types of business structures. Each type of legal entity has its pros and cons .

  • Sole proprietorship. "You're automatically considered to be a sole proprietorship if you do business activities but don't register as any other kind of business," Stephens says. You don't even have to file paperwork to officially form the business unless you're doing business under a different name, in which case, you need to file a DBA form . David Ciccarelli, founder and CEO of Voices , launched his business as a sole proprietorship because, he says, "it's fast, easy, and, let's be honest, the least expensive option available." The downside is that banks are more reluctant to lend money to sole proprietorships and you can't sell stock, Stephens notes.
  • Partnership. When Ciccarelli and his wife became business partners, they "set up a new entity because we changed the name and wanted to create something new that represented our collective ideas, a true partnership." Partnerships are an option when a business has multiple owners.
  • Limited liability company (LLC). LLCs are a popular choice, says Stephens, because they are "super simple to form" and have no limits on the number of shareholders. That is important if you intend to pursue investors. Deven Patel, founder and CEO of web domain marketplace Alter , has experience making this choice. "I'm a serial entrepreneur who started a number of businesses over the years using every structure imaginable," he says. "The LLC structure is great for small businesses as it's super simple to manage with less paperwork to deal with." Roy Harmon, owner of Advertoscope , went with an LLC because "some of my clients seemed to see that as a sign of credibility versus a sole proprietorship."
  • Corporations. There are two types of corporations: C corporations and S corporations. "Every corporation that is formed is a C corporation by default," says Charles Read, CEO of GetPayroll . "The S corporation election (made by filing a Form 2553 ) is a tax election only." S corporations are popular with small business owners because they are not subject to double taxation like C corporations are—profits flow through to the owner without taxation at the corporate level. S corporations are limited to 100 shareholders, however, and only "natural persons" can hold ownership stakes—meaning U.S. citizens.

When choosing which business structure is most appropriate for your short- and long-term plans, you'll want to weigh the following issues, Stephens recommends.

  • Complexity. How complicated does your business need to be now and in the future? Do you intend to stay a one-person show, or do you hope to build a business empire and sell the venture to investors in a few years? Those two scenarios lead to two totally different choices—sole proprietorship at one end and C corporation at the other.
  • Legal protection. Being able to separate your business assets from your personal finances is advantageous if your business carries with it significant liability—such as from customers visiting your store or the product you're manufacturing causing harm. The more protection you want, the more formal you'll want your business structure to be. "I always recommend that my clients (or those individuals asking for advice) choose either a corporation or an LLC for the liability protection it provides," Read says. Both of these structures shelter the owner's personal assets and wealth from outside claims and "is the cheapest liability policy I know of that a person can buy when they go into business," he says. Sole proprietorship and partnerships do not provide that kind of protection.
  • Taxes. Sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, and S corporations are pass-through entities, Stephens explains, which means profits are only taxed when they are paid out to the owner(s). However, a C corporation is taxed both as a company and when payouts are made to shareholders.
  • Number and type of owners. If your plan is eventually to go public, you may want to establish your business as a C corporation from the start. However, if you're building a business that you don't expect to take public, you may want to choose based on the number of owners you anticipate. A sole proprietorship has one owner, while a partnership, LLC, and S corporation can have multiple owners.

Entrepreneur Vinay Amin, founder of Eu Natural , says, "The best way to choose a legal business structure is to assess your personal risk potential, provide yourself with acceptable asset protection, and optimize the opportunity for sourcing investment for growth."

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Business Ownership Structures & Legal Implications

When forming a business, its legal structure is one of the owner’s most important practical decisions. Each type of structure has its own benefits and considerations that are affected by the business' size, the number of owners and employees, the industry, and other variables. Each state passes its own business formation laws, and not all states allow for every type of business structure. This means that the requirements for forming a particular type of business vary from state to state.

Sole Proprietorships

A sole proprietorship is the simplest kind of business. Most sole proprietorships are small businesses that have one employee — the owner. Forming a sole proprietorship is usually easy. In fact, in many states it requires no special action. Doing freelance or independent work under your own name is usually enough to form a sole proprietorship.

Two major benefits of structuring your business as a sole proprietorship are simplicity of formation and taxes. Since there usually are no formal steps required to form a sole proprietorship, there is no cost involved. Also, owners of sole proprietorships count the business’ income on their personal income tax returns. One drawback is that sole proprietorships do not offer any legal protection to their owners.

Partnerships

When two or more people start a business together, they can form a partnership. There are several types of partnerships, including general partnerships, limited partnerships, and limited liability partnerships. In addition, joint ventures have some aspects of partnerships. The amount of money contributed, control exerted over the business, and legal liability vary depending on which type of partnership is formed.

To form a partnership, most states require partners to register the business with the secretary of state. It is also important for the partners to formalize their relationship in a partnership agreement, which is a contract that addresses the major aspects of the business, including how it will be run, how profits are split, and what to do in the case of dissolution.

Consulting a lawyer experienced in business formation will give a business owner or potential owner a better understanding of each business structure in the context of their unique business situation. Justia offers a lawyer directory to simplify researching, comparing, and contacting attorneys who fit your legal needs.

Corporations

There are generally two types of corporations: C corporations and S corporations. Larger businesses with multiple employees are often structured as C corporations, whereas many smaller businesses choose to organize as S corporations. The primary difference between an S and C corporation is how taxes are paid. C corporations are taxed as independent entities. The income of an S corporation “passes through” to the individual tax returns of its owners. An LLC may choose to treat itself as an S corporation for tax purposes.

Non-Profit Organizations

The basic definition of a non-profit organization is a business that does not pass on excess revenue to owners, shareholders, or other investors. Instead, a non-profit uses this money to further its mission, which includes paying the salary of its owners and other employees.

Many non-profit organizations choose to incorporate to obtain federal and state tax exemptions, grants, and other benefits. One of the most common types of non-profit organizations is a 501(c)(3), named after a section of the IRS code, but there are other types.

Discover answers to frequently asked questions about business operations and formation.

Franchises are not a traditional business structure like the ones described above. A franchise is a business that licenses the name, logo, trade secrets, or other aspects of an existing business. For example, most fast food restaurants are franchises. In many cases, a person starting a franchise forms an LLC, partnership, or S corporation, and that company becomes the entity that pays the larger company for the right to use the name.

Last reviewed October 2023

Small Business Legal Center Contents   

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  • Non-Profit Corporations Under the Law
  • Franchises Under the Law
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  • Benefit Corporations & Hybrid Entities Under the Law
  • C Corporations Under the Law
  • Close Corporations Under the Law
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How to Choose a Legal Structure for Your Business

Dr. Gabriel O'Neill, Esq.

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Understanding how different business structures work and how they impact the growth of a business tends to be challenging since every business is different. This fact can make it hard to choose a legal business structure for your new venture. 

If you’re starting a business , it’s imperative to understand the various options in front of you and choose the right one from the get-go.

In this article, we’ll observe the main factors that influence how you choose your business structure, while also looking at the pros and cons of each option. This way, you can make an informed decision for your new business. 

What Is a Legal Structure for Your Business?

A registered business entity, or a business legal structure, is known as a government classification, which controls certain aspects of a business. It’s essentially the type of business you run in the eyes of the government. These types include LLCs (Limited Liability Companies), Partnerships, S-Corporations, and Sole Proprietorships, to name a few.

Your legal business structure influences your tax burden on a federal and state level. It also regulates how much liability a business faces in case of a lawsuit.

Moreover, your business structure determines if you need a board of directors and how often you should file paperwork. Depending on what structure you choose to register your business as, it either ensures that there’s no barrier between your business and personal taxes, or that there’s a strong one. 

Factors to Consider When You Choose a Business Structure

It can be hard for new entrepreneurs to choose a business structure. When trying to choose one, think about your financial needs, the ability of your business to grow, and the potential risks that might come with it. 

A business structure is not set in stone. You can always change it later. However, switching the legal business structure once you have registered your business is a complex process. Therefore, it’s recommended to thoroughly analyze your options before picking one.

Here are the factors you need to keep in mind when you choose a legal business structure. 

1. Flexibility of Your Business Plan

Return to your business plan and review all of your goals to see which business structure will be more suitable for you. The ideal business structure will align with all of your objectives. The business entity you pick should allow plenty of room for growth. 

In this case, an LLC offers the most flexibility when it comes to high growth potential. Plus, there’s lower risk and limited liability. 

2. Operational Complexity

Each type of legal business structure comes with its own costs and setup procedures, which also include complexities. Therefore, it’s recommended that new entrepreneurs pick a business entity that can easily be set up, comes with minimum legal formalities, and doesn’t cost a fortune. 

In this case, a sole proprietorship tends to be more straightforward as compared to other structures. However, it might be a bit hard to finance your business with external funding. 

3. The Level of Liability

When you choose a business structure, think about the extent you want your liabilities and assets to be protected. Certain structures offer limited liability protection that keeps the business owners’ assets safe in case the business goes through a loss or bankruptcy.

Alternatively, unlimited liability businesses offer full responsibility to the owner when it comes to legal issues or debts. New entrepreneurs need to take this critical factor into account as it’s going to affect their involvement in potential liability.

In this case, a corporation comes with the least personal liability due to being its own entity, while an LLC comes with the same protection but offers tax benefits similar to a sole proprietorship. In a partnership, the liabilities are shared between the different partners based on their agreement.

Your chosen business structure will also determine your tax obligations. This is because each entity is treated differently when it comes to taxation. Generally, sole proprietors get taxed on a personal level since the business and the owner is seen as one legal entity.

In the case of other entities like a corporation or an LLC, business owners are required to pay personal tax, corporate tax, or other specialty taxes that are charged by the government.

According to experts, you should avoid double taxation during the early stages of your business. An LLC structure can help with that by ensuring that you only get taxed as an individual and not as a company. Also, it helps to use a payroll service to help clarify taxation issues and payroll complexities. 

5. Responsibility and Control

Make sure you choose a business structure where you can handle a certain level of responsibility and control. For instance, when you’re the sole owner of a company, you have much more control as compared to being in a partnership or as a shareholder.

On the other hand, the more control you have, the more responsibilities you will have to take care of. In other business structures, such as a partnership, both the control and the responsibilities are divided between two or multiple people.

If you are willing to take on full responsibilities in addition to full control, then an LLC or a sole proprietorship business structure is the ideal choice. In the case of a corporation, there is a board of directors responsible for making important business-related decisions. 

Initially, a single person can handle a corporation, but as the business grows, the need for more people to take on certain responsibilities will grow as well.

6. Capital Investment

As a new business owner, you might need external funding of some sort to meet the costs of starting a business . In this case, corporations are more than likely to receive outside funding as compared to other business structures, like a sole proprietorship. 

A corporation can also sell its shares of stock in order to obtain extra funding for growth, but a sole proprietor can only get funds through personal credit, personal bank accounts, or by getting a partner. An LLC business goes through similar struggles, but the business owner does not necessarily have to use their personal assets or credit.

7. Business Permits and Licenses

You will require certain permits and licenses to operate once you register your business. Based on how you choose a business structure, you might need licenses on federal and state levels, in addition to the local level.

Each state has its own legal requirements for starting a business , and this includes business licenses . Most of the time, businesses aren’t aware of the licenses that are applicable to them. Take into account your business industry and the state you chose to launch your business in.

Types of Business Structure

Here’s a list of all the types of business structures with their pros and cons. This will help you choose a business structure that’s ideal for you. 

1. Sole Proprietorship

This is the most straightforward and simplest business structure. In a sole proprietorship, the owner has full rights to their business, including all responsibilities. 

  • Offers complete control
  • Does not have a lot of administrative work
  • Offers low cost
  • Offers tax deduction
  • Comes with increased liability risks
  • Hard to get outside funding

2. Partnership

This is an unincorporated business that’s owned by two or more owners. A partnership consists of people or other businesses. All profits get divided among the different owners while getting reported on each of their tax returns.   

  • Comes with easy tax treatment
  • Offers capital in the early stage
  • Offers ease of operation
  • There’s more expertise and knowledge 
  • More attorney costs
  • Arguments among partners
  • Liabilities of different partners 

3. Limited Liability Company (LLC)

This is a hybrid business structure. Similar to a corporation, the owners’ or members’ personal liability is limited, but the profits can be taxed on a corporate level or a member level.

Here’s how to start an LLC .

  • Comes with limited personal liability
  • Has a favorable tax regime
  • Offers improved credibility
  • Increased paperwork and maintenance
  • Offers limited options for investment
  • There are costs for renewal

4. Corporation

This is a legal business structure that’s fully independent and it’s separated from the owners. There are several types of corporations in the US, where C-corps and S-corps are the most popular ones. Other corporation types include B-corps, nonprofit corporations, and close corporations.

  • Offers limited liability
  • There’s business continuity 
  • Comes with secured business finance
  • It can be costly to set up
  • Risk of double taxation
  • Comes with numerous obligations

5. Cooperative

Essentially, this is an employee-owned business, where each member has equal rights. It doesn’t matter how many shares each member owns, earnings and profits are equally divided among everyone.

  • Employees are more invested
  • There’s reduced liability
  • More funding opportunities
  • Comes with a lower overhead
  • More tax advantages
  • Not a profitable option for founders
  • There are certain funding challenges
  • Comes with legal restrictions

What Business Structure Is Best for Me?

So, what do you do when the time comes to choose a business structure? You take into account everything related to your business before making the final decision. For instance, if your business is based on a hobby such as video production, photography, blogging, and so on, then a sole proprietorship is the ideal business structure for you. 

However, if your business has the potential for growth and comes with a massive customer base, then a corporation or LLC will suit you better. These two business structures offer the most protection and a reduced risk of personal loss.

How to Choose a Business Structure – Conclusion

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to business structures. Every business entity has its own unique elements and knowing how to properly utilize these elements is how you will have a successful business.

The ideal structure depends on the current condition of your business, and also where you want your business to be in the future. Therefore, choose a business structure according to your needs.

Read our article on avoiding common mistakes when you’re starting a new business.

About the author

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Dr. Gabriel O'Neill, Esq.

Dr. Gabriel O'Neill, Esq., a distinguished legal scholar with a business law degree and a Doctor of Juridical Science, is a leading expert in business registration and diverse business departments. Renowned for his academic excellence and practical insights, Dr. O'Neill guides businesses through legal complexities, offering invaluable expertise in compliance, corporate governance, and registration processes.

As an accomplished author, his forthcoming book is anticipated to be a comprehensive guide for navigating the dynamic intersection of law and business, providing clarity and practical wisdom for entrepreneurs and legal professionals alike. With a commitment to legal excellence, Dr. Gabriel O'Neill, Esq., is a trusted authority dedicated to empowering businesses within the ever-evolving legal landscape.

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Determine the Legal Structure of Your Business

Small Business Partnership Contract Template

Free Small Business Partnership Contract Template

Radhika Agarwal

  • December 13, 2023

13 Min Read

How to Choose the Best Legal Structure for Your Business

Consider the following situation: You have a brilliant business idea and have planned your business down to the last detail. You are most probably ready to get going. But, hold on. Did you choose a legal business structure? If not, you might want to decide the same before starting out.

Though picking an option amongst several similar-looking ones might seem intimidating at first, picking the right one can save your business from several legal hassles later on.

A proper legal structure decides whether you’ll stay on the good side of the law or not, both literally and figuratively.

Want to know how? Follow along to find out.

Why Does the Legal Structure of a Business Matter?

Against popular belief, a legal structure not just decides the taxes you’ll pay. It also decides the level of risks to your personal assets (your personal savings, car, house, etc.) and your business’s ability to raise funds through loans and investments .

Going through all of your options can help you decide which one fits the best for your business. Moreover, it also helps you finalize if you would need an attorney’s help or not.

So, if you want to get a quick overview of what different types of business structures would look like, read on.

What Are Different Types of Business Structures?

What are different types of business structures

Depending upon the type of ownership, liability on personal assets, and size of the firm, the following legal structures exist in the US:

Sole Proprietorship

Partnership, corporation.

Suppose you plan on selling artwork, retail products, or any product or service under the sun for that matter. Also, you want to go through as little paperwork and legal procedures as possible.

Then a sole proprietorship might be for you. Especially, if you plan on starting the business under your name, you might not have to do any paperwork at all.

Sole Proprietorships | Legal structure of your business

Even if you want to have a domain name , registering your domain name would be the only legal procedure you’ll have to go through. And that’s fairly simple and inexpensive.

Hence, a sole proprietorship is a perfect business structure type for those who have a product or service and wish to start selling it right out.

How to form a sole proprietorship?

A sole proprietorship is fairly simple to form. If you have your business idea and plan sorted, you can start your business. Without any official registration or legal framework whatsoever.

Although you should keep in mind that depending upon your industry you might need to get some licenses and permits before you start.

If you are doing business under a name other than your own, you would also have to get a DBA or “ doing business as.”

A sole proprietorship has the following advantages:

  • Easy to set up: A sole proprietorship is fairly easy to set up and involves little or no legal hassles.
  • Relatively Inexpensive: Setting up a sole proprietorship is the cheapest of all legal structures. All you have to pay is a small fee for a business license and business tax depending upon the location of your business .
  • Dissolution is easy: As your business has no stakeholders except you, the dissolution can happen without any disagreements or problems.
  • You are the sole benefactor of profits and sole bearer of losses: Your profits belong only to you and you aren’t answerable to anyone for your losses.

Disadvantages

Although sole proprietorship might look like a great option right now, it has its fair share of disadvantages too. Which are as follows:

Liability on your assets: As you and your business are a single legal entity, if things go south your personal assets would be in danger. i.e., you’ll have to pay the debts incurred through your business using your personal assets.

Difficulty in raising capital: It is tougher for sole proprietors to acquire a small business loan or funding. Banks are often less willing to give loans to sole proprietors as they are considered less credible. Also, you cannot sell stocks to generate funds as a sole proprietor .

Limited tax savings: Sole proprietorships do not get tax benefits like corporations do for offering benefits like medical reimbursements and insurances to their employees.

Suppose you are an architect and want to start a firm with your friend who’s an interior designer.

Depending upon the ratio of contributions you make towards the working of the firm you’ll have a certain share in profits and losses of the firm.

It can either be equal or 40 to 60, etc. Also, the size of contributions can be measured both by the size of your investments or the amount of work you provide.

Partnership | Legal structure of your business

For example, if your friend has invested a higher sum of money but you work more. So, chances are that your ratio in profits would be equivalent.

Apart from that, a partnership is a lot like a sole proprietorship but instead of being the sole owner of the business, you have a partner.

Your partner would have a predetermined share in the profits and losses of your firm.

How to form a partnership?

Just like a sole proprietorship a partnership is fairly simple to form. The only difference is a partnership agreement .

Having a partnership agreement is crucial to this business structure type. A lot of things can go haywire if you don’t work on pre-decided terms and conditions.

Your partnership agreement would decide your share in profits and losses, the type of partnership you have, and what would happen if you decide to dissolve the partnership in the future.

Types of partnership

A partnership can be of the following types:

  • General Partnership: In a general partnership, all the partners have an equivalent stake in the business.
  • Limited Partnership: A limited partnership has partners who play the role of an investor and have no say in the functioning of the business.
  • Joint Venture: A joint venture is a partnership that exists for a limited period or for certain projects.

The advantages of a partnership can be given as follows:

Easy to form: Just like a sole proprietorship, a partnership is fairly easy to form. And requires a very little amount of legal procedures.

Has more growth potential: As a partnership combines the strengths and talents of all partners, it has more growth potential than a sole proprietorship.

Moving forward without a partnership agreement can be disastrous: You shouldn’t move forward without a proper legal agreement. There are a lot of things that can go awry without one. And coming to terms with an agreement that suits everyone is difficult for a lot of partnerships.

Unlimited liability on your personal assets: Just like a sole proprietorship, there’s an unlimited liability on your personal assets. In such structures, you can lose your personal belongings if your business fails.

Difficulty in dissolution: Dissolution is tougher in partnerships as the business has multiple stakeholders.

Consider the following situation: You want to start a business but have a significant amount of personal belongings that you don’t want to risk.

Then an LLC or a limited liability company might be for you. In an LLC you are taxed only on your profits.

Also, there’s no liability on your personal assets as you and your business are separate legal entities.

LLC | Legal structure of your business

An LLC is a fairly new legal structure and is good for industries where lawsuits are common. Moreover, an LLC gets the best of both worlds.

Its tax structure is like a partnership and it has a limited liability structure like a corporation.

Also, unlike a corporation, an LLC can be set up by smaller businesses too.

How to form an LLC?

An LLC is formed by creating a separate legal entity for your business. Although it requires way more paperwork than a sole proprietorship or partnership, it is a more secure structure than either of those.

And you might think that a little paperwork is worth the benefits it provides. And it definitely is! You can form an LLC either on your own or with a partner.

The specific amount of paperwork required for an LLC varies from state to state.

Your personal assets would be safe: One of the major benefits of any limited liability structure is that your personal assets remain unaffected if things go downhill.

The tax structure is beneficial: You are only taxed on your profits in an LLC.

An LLC is tougher to set up: It is comparatively more expensive and complicated to set up. You might have to take some legal advice as well before you set up an LLC.

An LLC has to be dissolved within 30 years: An LLC has to be dissolved in 30 years or less, depending upon your pre-decided agreement. Although, all states have different laws regarding the dissolution of an LLC.

Corporations are one of the most commonly known types of business structures out there. They are usually larger, have more employees, and take the highest amount of legal work to set up.

The biggest advantages of a corporation are its limited liability structure and the tax benefits it gets.

Most of the bigger companies and MNCs follow this structure, but if you have a small business it is neither possible nor feasible to have such a structure. Though, a lot of LLCs and partnerships turn into corporations as they grow bigger.

How to set up a corporation?

Setting up a corporation requires the highest amount of paperwork and legal procedures.

You have to register your business name and get your EIN or employer identification number, etc.

Also, depending upon your state and type of corporation the legal procedure for setting up a corporation would differ.

Types of corporation

A corporation can be divided into the following types depending upon its size and functions:

A C Corp is the most common type of corporation out there. Most MNCs follow this structure.

C- Corp | Legal structure of your business

To form a C Corp you collect fundings and give stocks equivalent to the funding to your investors.Although double taxation might be a problem, C Corp has the highest opportunity of getting investments. Hence, most companies follow this structure when they go public. For example, if you are a corporate firm with a large number of employees and investors, you’ll follow this structure. Microsoft, Intel, and Apple are popular examples of C Corps.

An S Corp is a pass-through tax entity and is usually owned by families or small groups.

S Corp | Legal structure of your business

Also, the motive of a C Corp is to grow big and go public, while an S Corp exists to generate profits for its owners. Hence, both the structures fulfill different motives for their owners. An S Corp is very similar to an LLC and is a structure that can be followed by small businesses. A lot of S Corps turn into C Corps as they grow bigger. Apart from that, people choose this structure mainly for the tax benefits it offers.

How to determine the legal structure of your business

For example, organization XYZ works towards the social and economic upliftment of underprivileged children. But at the same time, it has investors to whom it has to send back profits. Hence, XYZ organization is not a non-profit but a B Corp. A B Corp is an excellent way of standing behind a social cause and many states provide tax benefits to such structures. Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, and Etsy are popular B Corps in the US. If we try to understand this further through the example of Ben and Jerry’s, the company has three main motives- product quality, economic reward, and service to the community. Because Ben and Jerry’s is a for-profit company that stands behind a cause it becomes eligible for its B Corp status.

The most limited possible liability: Corporations give the highest amount of protection to your personal assets. If things go awry, your personal assets will be the safest in this structure.

Corporations have a high potential to raise capital: With the option of selling stocks to get funding and more credibility to get loans, raising capital is fairly easy for corporations.

Taxes are filed separately from personal taxes: As taxes are filed separately from personal taxes in corporations your business becomes eligible for corporate tax breaks.

Difficult to set up: Corporations go through way more procedures, legal or otherwise and are fairly difficult to set up. The structure is also not an ideal one for smaller businesses.

Double taxation: You have to pay taxes on both the earnings of the corporation as well as on the dividend you get from it. This disadvantage mainly holds true for a C Corp.

If you want to work towards a social cause and channel all your energies towards it, a non-profit organization would fit the best for you.

The chief difference between any other legal structure and a non-profit is that a non-profit solely exists for fulfilling a social cause and not for earning profit.

Such organizations get tax-exempt status from the government.

Non Profit | Legal structure of your business

As a nonprofit is run for serving society and for personal values, it does not have any advantages or disadvantages as such.

But you should keep the following things in mind before starting a nonprofit organization :

  • Your setup will be similar to that of a corporation: You’ll have to register your business’s name as well as your taxation number as a non-profit to get tax exemptions.
  • You should have a solid system in place to collect funds: If you choose this business structure, generating funds to keep your firm going will be a chief priority.

In conclusion, the legal structure of a business plan greatly depends upon the said firm’s function and size. The number of legal formalities you are able and willing to fulfill, the laws of the state your business will function from, and so on.

Also, getting legal advice from an attorney while deciding your structure can be of great help for your business. A little expense and effort, in the beginning, can take your business a long way in the future.

Your legal structure would impact a lot of aspects of your business. Hence, you should choose it wisely.

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About the Author

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Radhika is an economics graduate and likes to read about every subject and idea she comes across. Apart from that she can discuss her favorite books to lengths( to the point you\'ll start feeling a little annoyed) and spends most of her free time on Google word coach.

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How To Write A Business Plan (2024 Guide)

Julia Rittenberg

Updated: Apr 17, 2024, 11:59am

How To Write A Business Plan (2024 Guide)

Table of Contents

Brainstorm an executive summary, create a company description, brainstorm your business goals, describe your services or products, conduct market research, create financial plans, bottom line, frequently asked questions.

Every business starts with a vision, which is distilled and communicated through a business plan. In addition to your high-level hopes and dreams, a strong business plan outlines short-term and long-term goals, budget and whatever else you might need to get started. In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to write a business plan that you can stick to and help guide your operations as you get started.

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Drafting the Summary

An executive summary is an extremely important first step in your business. You have to be able to put the basic facts of your business in an elevator pitch-style sentence to grab investors’ attention and keep their interest. This should communicate your business’s name, what the products or services you’re selling are and what marketplace you’re entering.

Ask for Help

When drafting the executive summary, you should have a few different options. Enlist a few thought partners to review your executive summary possibilities to determine which one is best.

After you have the executive summary in place, you can work on the company description, which contains more specific information. In the description, you’ll need to include your business’s registered name , your business address and any key employees involved in the business. 

The business description should also include the structure of your business, such as sole proprietorship , limited liability company (LLC) , partnership or corporation. This is the time to specify how much of an ownership stake everyone has in the company. Finally, include a section that outlines the history of the company and how it has evolved over time.

Wherever you are on the business journey, you return to your goals and assess where you are in meeting your in-progress targets and setting new goals to work toward.

Numbers-based Goals

Goals can cover a variety of sections of your business. Financial and profit goals are a given for when you’re establishing your business, but there are other goals to take into account as well with regard to brand awareness and growth. For example, you might want to hit a certain number of followers across social channels or raise your engagement rates.

Another goal could be to attract new investors or find grants if you’re a nonprofit business. If you’re looking to grow, you’ll want to set revenue targets to make that happen as well.

Intangible Goals

Goals unrelated to traceable numbers are important as well. These can include seeing your business’s advertisement reach the general public or receiving a terrific client review. These goals are important for the direction you take your business and the direction you want it to go in the future.

The business plan should have a section that explains the services or products that you’re offering. This is the part where you can also describe how they fit in the current market or are providing something necessary or entirely new. If you have any patents or trademarks, this is where you can include those too.

If you have any visual aids, they should be included here as well. This would also be a good place to include pricing strategy and explain your materials.

This is the part of the business plan where you can explain your expertise and different approach in greater depth. Show how what you’re offering is vital to the market and fills an important gap.

You can also situate your business in your industry and compare it to other ones and how you have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Other than financial goals, you want to have a budget and set your planned weekly, monthly and annual spending. There are several different costs to consider, such as operational costs.

Business Operations Costs

Rent for your business is the first big cost to factor into your budget. If your business is remote, the cost that replaces rent will be the software that maintains your virtual operations.

Marketing and sales costs should be next on your list. Devoting money to making sure people know about your business is as important as making sure it functions.

Other Costs

Although you can’t anticipate disasters, there are likely to be unanticipated costs that come up at some point in your business’s existence. It’s important to factor these possible costs into your financial plans so you’re not caught totally unaware.

Business plans are important for businesses of all sizes so that you can define where your business is and where you want it to go. Growing your business requires a vision, and giving yourself a roadmap in the form of a business plan will set you up for success.

How do I write a simple business plan?

When you’re working on a business plan, make sure you have as much information as possible so that you can simplify it to the most relevant information. A simple business plan still needs all of the parts included in this article, but you can be very clear and direct.

What are some common mistakes in a business plan?

The most common mistakes in a business plan are common writing issues like grammar errors or misspellings. It’s important to be clear in your sentence structure and proofread your business plan before sending it to any investors or partners.

What basic items should be included in a business plan?

When writing out a business plan, you want to make sure that you cover everything related to your concept for the business,  an analysis of the industry―including potential customers and an overview of the market for your goods or services―how you plan to execute your vision for the business, how you plan to grow the business if it becomes successful and all financial data around the business, including current cash on hand, potential investors and budget plans for the next few years.

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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.

Advertising

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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  • Legal Structure of a Business
  • LawDistrict ❯
  • Legal Dictionary
  • What Is a Legal Structure?

A legal structure is an organizational framework for how a business entity operates . Also called a business structure, a business form, or a business ownership structure, the proper legal structure depends on the size and type of your business and your business goals.

Typical business legal structures include sole proprietorships , limited liability companies ( LLCs ), partnerships (such as LLPs ), and corporations .

  • How Do I Choose the Right Legal Structure?

Different legal structures come with distinct advantages and disadvantages. In most cases, the criteria you will evaluate to select the right format involve the following:

  • owner liability
  • expenses and procedures needed to create and run the business structure
  • how the business will be taxed
  • investment needs

Owner liability : The more risk involved with the service or product your business provides, the more important owner liability becomes.

Both corporations and LLCs offer business owners some personal liability protection against someone making claims against the business. In fact, this protection is one of the main benefits of an LLC. Conversely, owners of partnerships and sole proprietorships have little personal protection.

Expenses and procedures : Sole proprietorships and partnerships do not require much in the way of fees and documents to start a business . Partnerships do need to create a partnership agreement that specifies who does what in the company.

However, you must file articles of incorporation with your secretary of state's office and pay associated fees to establish a corporation or an LLC. Required fees and forms, such as an LLC operating agreement , vary from state to state.

In addition, the owners of businesses with these two business structures must elect officers to elect to run the company and maintain detailed records of any critical business decisions.

Taxes: The business structure you choose also affects your income tax status . Sole proprietorships, partnerships, and LLCs are "pass-through" tax entities, meaning the taxes on business profits and losses "pass through" to the owners on their personal income taxes. However, these owners must file taxes on all net profits from their business, even if they take no money out of the company during the tax year.

Unlike the "pass-through" structures, corporations are considered separate tax entities. These business owners pay taxes only on the profits they actually take from the business in the form of salaries, dividends, or bonuses. Also, the corporation pays taxes at a lower tax rate than some individuals do.

Investment needs: If your business relies on investors, then a corporation may be the right business structure. Structuring as a corporation allows a company to sell shares of ownership through stock offerings. The previous business structures cannot offer stock.

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FAQs About Business Structures

What about llc vs. sole proprietorship.

Deciding between an LLC and a sole proprietorship is a difficult choice when it comes to legal structure . Many entrepreneurs launch their businesses as sole proprietorships because they are easy and inexpensive to set up and maintain. All profits and losses "pass through" to the owner's personal tax return, and the owner does not need to pay business taxes.

However, a sole proprietorship is not considered a separate legal entity. Therefore, the owner has unlimited liability protection and can be held personally liable for the obligations of the business.

As their businesses grow, many sole proprietors restructure their businesses as LLCs , which offer the pass-through tax advantage and limited liability protection.

Is a business plan essential?

A well-thought-out business plan serves as a guide for launching and managing your business and choosing its legal structure . When you go through the steps of how to write a business plan , you'll be able to see more clearly what legal structure you'll need for your endeavor.

Traditional business plans use a standard structure and offer details on each aspect of the business. A lean startup business plan uses the same structure but summarizes the key elements.

Depending on your type of business and the structure you choose, you may need to apply for a business registration number . You will use this number to file taxes, open up a bank account, and conduct other official business.

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What Is A Legal Structure And Which One Is Right For Your Business?

Legal Structure

Legal Structure And Which One Is Right For Your Business

Building a business is similar to building a house. You’ve got to build from the ground up, and without the proper foundation, everything else is suspect.

In business, the foundation is the legal structure chosen at the outset. It alone determines how the business is organized and addresses issues such as ownership liability, tax concerns and more. With so much at stake, it is easy to see why choosing the correct business model is crucial.

For those who are new to the business world, that may sound intimidating, confusing, or both. So the question is, which legal structure or “foundation” is best for your business?

Assessing The Options – An Overview Of Legal Structures For Business

Most people starting  “for profit” businesses in the United States have four choices regarding the legal structure for their new venture.  Choosing the one that’s best for you largely depends on what you want to accomplish and how you plan to do so.  But to begin with, here’s an overview of each one.

The first is a sole proprietorship. This is the most basic legal structure, and as such, it is the easiest to create and the most commonly used.  As its name indicates, there is just one owner, who receives all of the business’s revenues and is accountable for all of its shortfalls. Legally, there is no differentiation between the owner and the business itself, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Because the business isn’t taxed separately, filing the necessary returns is fairly easy. On the other hand, this means the owner is also  personally liable  for any debts the business incurs.

The second type of legal structure is a partnership.  The U.S. Small Business Administration defines it as “a single business where two or more people share ownership.” Together, the partners participate in all facets of the operation, benefit from the profits and share accountability for any and all losses. The extent to which they do so depends on the type of partnership arrangement (general partnership, limited partnership or joint venture). In any case, creating a partnership is relatively easy and inexpensive, and filing taxes is fairly straightforward. On the other hand, the partners are subject to “joint and several liability” when it comes to business decisions, transactions and any debt incurred.

The next type of legal structure is a limited liability company or LLC . It offers a great deal of flexibility with regards to ownership and reduced personal liability for the owners or “members.” The members also share profits, which are also reflected on their personal income tax returns. The disadvantage of creating an LLC in some states is that it must be dissolved when a member leaves unless the operating agreement specifies otherwise.

The last, and perhaps best-known legal structure is a corporation. The U.S. Small Business Administration defines a corporation as “an independent legal entity owned by shareholders.” Even though they “own” the corporation, shareholders are shielded from personal liability. But because forming one is trickier than creating other legal structures, it is seldom recommended for new, small businesses with few employees.

Additional Considerations

Starting a new business and choosing a legal structure for that business is often a daunting proposition. Before doing so, it’s important to evaluate your tolerance for risk; how much you can afford to spend on creating a legal structure; local and state requirements for creating different types of businesses; and tax status.

If you are still unsure about which legal structure to choose, a qualified attorney can assess your situation and determine which one is best. To learn more, call Jurado & Associates, P.A at ( 305) 921-097 6  or email  [email protected] .

Romy Jurado

Business & Immigration Lawyer to Entrepreneurs, Start-ups, Small Business and Foreign Investors. Romy Jurado grew up with the entrepreneurial dream of becoming an attorney and starting her own business. And today, she is living proof that dreams really do come true. As a founder of Jurado & Associates, P.A., a reputable business, real estate, and immigration law firm, Romy’s practice is centered primarily around domestic and international business transactions – with a strong emphasis on corporate formation, stock and asset sales, contract drafting, and business immigration. In 2011, Romy earned her Juris Doctor degree from the Florida International University College of Law. She is fluent in two languages (English and Spanish) and is the proud author of Starting a Business in the US as a Foreigner, an online entrepreneurial guide. Call 305-921-0976 or email [email protected] for a consultation.

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Business Structure

The legal structure of an organization that is recognized in a given jurisdiction

What is Business Structure?

Business structure refers to the legal structure of an organization that is recognized in a given jurisdiction. An organization’s legal structure is a key determinant of the activities that it can undertake, such as raising capital , responsibility for obligations of the business, as well as the amount of taxes that the organization owes to tax agencies.

Before making a choice on the type of legal structure, business owners should first consider their needs and goals and understand the features of each business structure. The four main forms of business structures in the United States include sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, and corporation.

Business Structure - Four Main Forms

  • A business structure describes the legal structure of a company that influences the day-to-day operations of a business.
  • A sole proprietorship and partnership are simple to set up since they are not required to meet ongoing requirements such as shareholder meetings and voting.
  • A corporation and a limited liability company provide limited liability protection to their owners, which serves to prevent the owner’s personal assets from being sold off to settle the entity’s debts and liabilities.

Forms of Business Structure

The different business structures are discussed in detail below:

1. Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest business structure and involves one individual who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the business. Also, from a tax perspective, the incomes and expenses of the business are included in the tax return of the owner.

The business is not required to file separate income tax forms from the owner since the business does not exist as a separate legal entity from its owner. The owner is required to file Form 1040, and the form must include Schedule C and Schedule SE for self-employment tax.

There are several advantages to opting for a sole proprietorship business structure. First, it is inexpensive to start, and there are minimal fees incurred when registering a sole proprietorship. In most states, the only costs associated with running a sole proprietorship are business taxes and operating license fees.

Business owners may also be eligible for tax deductions, such as health insurance. Unlike a limited liability company, a sole proprietorship is not required to meet ongoing requirements such as shareholder meetings and voting or election of directors. On the downside, since it is not a separate legal entity from its owners, the owners will be personally liable for the debts, liabilities, and obligations of the business.

2. Partnership

A partnership is a form of business structure that comprises two or more owners. It is the simplest form of business structure for a business with two or more owners. A partnership shares a lot of similarities with a sole proprietorship. For example, the business does not exist as a separate legal entity from its owners, and therefore, the owners and the entity are treated as one person.

When filing taxes, the profits and losses of the business are passed on to the partners, and each partner is required to report the information in Form 1065 with their personal tax returns. Also, partners are required to pay self-employment tax, depending on their share of the enterprise’s profits. Schedule K-1, which records the profits or losses, should accompany Form 1065.

A partnership business structure offers several advantages. When registering a partnership, there is little paperwork involved, and the partners are not required to meet the same level of requirements that limited liability companies are subjected to. Also, partnerships enjoy a special taxation arrangement, where partners are required to report their share of profit or loss of the business on their income tax return.

On the downside, the partners are personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business, and their personal assets can be sold off to pay the business debts. Also, disagreements may occur between the partners and this  may slow down the operations of the business.

3. Corporation

A corporation is a type of business structure that gives the entity a separate legal entity from its owners. It is complex and expensive to set up, and it requires the owners to comply with more tax requirements and regulations. Most corporations hire attorneys to oversee the registration process and to ensure that the entity complies with the state laws where it is registered.

When an organization intends to go public through the issue of common stock to the public, it must first be incorporated as a corporation. Corporations are required to pay both federal and state taxes, while the shareholders are required to disclose their dividend payments when filing their personal income taxes.

The main types of corporations are C-corporation and S-corporation . A C-corporation exists as a separate legal entity from its owners, whereas an S-corporation may consist of up to 100 shareholders and functions in the same way as a partnership.

One of the advantages of a corporate structure is the ability to raise capital. The entity can raise large amounts of capital by selling shares of stock to the public. Also, the business structure comes with limited personal liability, offering the owners protection against debts, liabilities, and obligations of the business.

On the downside, a corporation is subject to more requirements, such as meeting, voting, and the election of directors, and it is more expensive to form compared to a sole proprietorship or partnership.

4. Limited Liability Company (LLC)

A limited liability company (LLC) is a hybrid business structure that combines the best of both worlds, i.e., it possesses the characteristics of both partnerships and corporations. It provides personal liability protection to business owners while reducing tax and business requirements. The profits and losses of the business are passed through to the owners, and each business owner is required to include a share of the profits/losses in their personal tax returns.

Also, unlike an S-corporation, which is subject to a limit of 100 shareholders, there is no limit to the number of shareholders in a limited liability company. When registering a limited liability company, the entity must file its articles of association with the Secretary of State where it intends to do business. In some states, the entity may be required to file an operating agreement.

One of the advantages of setting up a limited liability company is that it comes with fewer requirements compared to a corporation. Less paperwork is involved, and the owners enjoy limited liability, which protects their assets from being sold to pay liabilities of the entity. A limited liability company is not subject to any limitation on the number of shareholders it can appoint.

On the downside, a limited liability company is expensive to set up since it must register with the state where it intends to conduct operations. Also, the entity may need to hire an accountant and an attorney to ensure that it complies with tax and regulatory requirements.

Related Readings

Thank you for reading CFI’s guide to Business Structures. To keep learning and advancing your career, the following CFI resources will be helpful:

  • Forms of Business Structure Course
  • Business Strategy vs Business Model
  • Corporate Strategy
  • Flow-Through Entity
  • Types of Organizations
  • See all management & strategy resources
  • Share this article

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  • Starting a Law Firm

How to Create a Law Firm Business Plan

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How to Create a Law Firm Business Plan

Contents: Guide To Starting a Law Firm

How to Create a Law Firm Business Plan

1. How to Create a Law Firm Business Plan

2. how to create a law firm budget, 3. getting support: networking and hiring, 4. setting up your workplace, 5. creating your online presence, 6. implementing systems and processes, 7. making it official, 8. how to get clients for your law firm.

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What is a business plan and why is it important.

A law firm business plan is a document that summarizes what you want to achieve and how you’ll run your business. This summary includes general information about your law firm, why you chose to start it, major goals, the services you offer, a budget, and a strategy for gaining and managing clients.

A business plan is essential to any law firm as it documents, and serves as, a roadmap for the future.

As you think through what it is you want to achieve, what type of clients you want to serve, how much to charge as a lawyer , and what type of matters you want to handle, your business plan may evolve. That’s okay! Your law firm business plan can change as your goals change, so don’t feel pressured to have all the answers upfront.

That being said, the more thought you put into your business plan now, the better you’ll set yourself up for success in the long run.

What to consider when creating your business plan

Before you start writing a law firm business plan, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on what you want from your practice first. For a more specific, meaningful, and ultimately rewarding business plan, consider these three points:

1. What are your goals?

The first and most critical step in writing an effective plan is to ask yourself, “Why do I want to own a law firm ? What do I want to achieve? What’s my definition of success ?”

Starting your own law firm isn’t just about having a job—it gives you the potential to have more freedom and more fulfillment. In theory, owning your own firm gives you more control over your income.

Consider the following questions to get started:

  • What do I want to achieve through starting my own law firm?
  • What’s the impact I want to have?
  • What am I good at?
  • How do I want to service my clients?
  • What problems do I want to help solve?
  • What does success look like after starting this law firm?

Answering these questions might be more difficult than you think, but they’ll help you get clear on your goals for why you want to run a law firm. 

2. Consider how much revenue you’ll need

Now that you have an idea of what success looks like, calculate how much annual revenue you’ll need to achieve those goals—and more.

In 2023, the median pay for lawyers was $126,930 . While this isn’t a small amount of money, after factoring in living expenses like saving for retirement, rent or mortgage payments, student debt repayment, vehicles, emergencies, office lease etc., that number gets eaten away quickly.

More importantly, there’s no extra room for investment in hiring or marketing to grow your law firm. So, it may just be you and you alone until things pick up.

In that case, be generous when estimating how much revenue you’ll need, and write down a number that scares you. You’ll be much better off planning with that number in mind from the beginning.

3. Setting your fee structure

After setting your goals and estimating a few rough numbers to start, it’s time to create your fee structure. 

Your fee structure should include:

  • What others charge on average
  • What practice area you’ve chosen
  • What your business expenses are 

As you might already know, each client is different which means each matter you handle will be different. It could make sense to charge a flat rate for one project but an hourly rate for another. 

Understanding what your competitors are charging and how they’re structuring their pricing is a good starting point to then build out your own fee structure.

Luckily, there are so many incredible tools out there such as Clio’s Legal Trends Report , which can help you understand average hourly rates; a benchmark calculator for hourly rates within your jurisdiction ; blog posts about billing; and more, that make it easy for you to do market research and understand what others are charging.

4. Determine how many cases you need to meet that revenue goal

If you are only handling two or three cases per month, the number you came up with above might look outrageous. It’s not. 

For example, let’s use the 2023 median pay of $126,930 a year in annual revenue as our goal, with a flat fee of $3,000 per client.

$126,930 per year in revenue = an average case value of $3,000 – $3200 = 40 cases per year = 3 – 4 per month.

$126,930 per year might seem crazy if you’re only working a couple of cases per month, but keep in mind that you’re going to gradually work up to it.

The number of cases you’ll need may differ depending on your location and practice area, so do your research to make sure you come up with a realistic case goal (even if it still feels like a stretch).

This brings us to the next part of developing your business plan—writing it.

How to write a law firm business plan

Once you’ve got the starting points of your business plan worked out, it’s time to put pen to paper. 

While your law firm business plan should be tailored to your unique situation, the following list will walk you step-by-step through all key sections you need to have a comprehensive business plan:

Instructional Spot Illustration Guide to Starting a Law Firm

1. Executive summary

An executive summary is a one-page, high-level overview of all the key information in your business plan.

Law firm business plans can cover a lot, so it’s worth having a succinct high-level overview to keep things simple (hint: While this section should come first in your plan, it’s actually easier to write this section last, after you’ve laid out your plan).

Your executive summary should include:

  • Mission statement : One or two sentences describing your firm’s purpose.
  • Core values : What values are most important to the firm?
  • Major goals : What are your firm’s overarching goals and objectives?
  • Unique selling proposition : What sets your firm apart from other firms?

2. Firm description

Next, write a company summary for your firm, something  concise that provides a general overview of your firm, while providing important details describing your practice and clients, including:

  • Service(s) : What type of law do you practice? What types of clients do you serve? Firm values : Restate your mission statement and core values.
  • Legal structure : What sort of business entity are you? Are you in a sole proprietorship or a limited liability partnership?
  • Location : Where is the office geographically located? What areas does the firm serve?
  • Unique selling proposition : What makes your firm stand out? What technology or services give your firm an edge?

3. Market analysis

A little bit of preliminary market research goes a long way. 

Look at bar association listings to see how many other firms in your area offer similar services. Is there a high demand for what you’re offering? If not, how can you ensure you stand out to potential clients? This will greatly inform the message you choose to use in your marketing efforts.

Create a market analysis for your firm, including the following:

  • Ideal client : What demographics (like location, age, occupation), needs, and motivations would signify the best client match for your firm, and why?
  • Industry description : What is the current and projected size of the market your firm is in? What are the trends in your legal niche?
  • Competitive analysis : Who are your direct and indirect competitors, and how are they serving your target market? Where do your competitors succeed? What opportunities are there for your firm?
  • Projections : How much can your ideal clients spend on legal services ? How much can you charge?

4. Organization and management overview

You know that you’re the best person to lead the firm, but does everyone else know it too? This section is your opportunity to provide important details about yourself—and the key players in your firm.

  • Highlight your experience and the educational background details that set you apart.
  • Add the same for other members of your team, if applicable, including what makes them right for their specific roles.
  • If your practice is on the larger size, this section is a great place to add quick visual aids like an organizational chart.

5. Services

Outline the types of legal services your firm provides.

For example, if you practice family law, what will you provide in your portfolio of legal services—cohabitation agreements? Wills/estates? Pre-nups? 

You also want to include who your services are for. For example, you might offer legal tech services to start-up companies and high-tech clients.

When writing about your services it’s important to consider:

  • What problems do your potential clients need your help with?
  • How can your services uniquely help your clients solve their problems?
  • What is the benefit of your services to clients?
  • Why would potential clients choose your firm over another firm?

How to Start a Law Firm Checklist

How to Start a Law Firm Checklist

Everything you need to start a law firm—in one checklist

6. Marketing strategy

Marketing is a critical part of your law firm , and your business plan. It helps you understand how to make your firm stand out from others, how much you need to charge, and how you’ll get the word out and attract new clients. Learn more about how to get new clients for law firms .

Consider including the following in your law firm marketing strategy:

  • Ideal client : Where would you find your ideal client?
  • Marketing goals : Detail what specific outcomes you hope to accomplish through marketing. Goals should include tactical objectives (more clients? Higher billing rates?) and overall objectives (like increased name recognition).
  • Unique selling proposition : Restate what sets you apart and makes you uniquely able to best serve your clients.
  • Competition : Detail who your competition is—and what they’re doing to gain clients. Analyze their marketing strategies and assess where the cost of your services fits in with your competitors.
  • Action plan : List the specific actions your firm will take to reach your target market and achieve your marketing goals (this could include a media/advertising strategy).

It’s also important to consider that your marketing needs will be different depending on the current stage of your law firm. 

When starting your own law firm, then marketing for you might mean a lot of hustle—working referral relationships , identifying groups that you can get in front of for speaking engagements, blogging, and using social media to get your name in front of potential clients.

As you grow (or if you have existing marketing in place) you should be able to estimate the number of cases you will bring in through each channel. Then, you can quantify your marketing cost per client by dividing the total cost of that marketing effort by the number of cases you got from each marketing channel. For example, if you’re the only corporate lawyer in a small town, you’ll need to spend less on advertising than a family lawyer in a larger city.

Once you have an idea of the cost and effectiveness of your marketing efforts, implement a marketing tax on yourself—a percentage that comes out of every single case fee you collect, and that gets invested straight back into marketing efforts. 

This is a simple way to think about how much you need to be charging to fuel your revenue goals. It’s also an easy way to scale and grow your marketing budget.

Once you start mapping out this information, you’ll notice that a system starts to form, which connects your goals, the number of cases you need to bring in, the profit you need to make on each case, the money you need to re-invest in marketing, and the number of people or contract resources you will need to employ to keep growing.

Learn more about how to market your law firm with Clio.

7. Financial plan

The heart of your law firm business plan is the financial plan. After all, when it comes to your business, there may not be a more important question than, “How much does it cost to run your law firm?”

The key is to include as much specific financial information as possible—particularly if you’re seeking funding like taking out a bank loan. As you start out, this financial plan should include numbers for your first year.

This could include:

  • Revenue goal : How much money you want to make broken down by month.
  • Financial projections : What you’ll realistically expect to earn, how many cases you think you’ll have capacity to take on, and what you’ll be charging each client each month.
  • Budget : A breakdown of your expenses and what your money will be going towards each month.
  • Cash flow statement: What you actually earned and spent each month. This is different from your projections and budget and should be updated as the year progresses. You’ll find that you may have budgeted for something that cost you much less than you originally thought or made more in a month than you projected, these discrepancies should be recorded in your cash flow statement.

As you start it’s reasonable to make assumptions based on your goals. You should also review and update this document for your second year, third year, and so on as time goes on.

8. Start-up budget

If you’re creating a business plan for a new law firm, you need a realistic start-up budget. To do this, you’ll need to consider a number of up-front and day-to-day costs, and account for these in your revenue goals.

Here are a few examples of costs to include in your budget:

  • Hardware (laptops, printers, scanners, office furniture, etc.)
  • Practice management software and other technology services
  • Office space (Will you rent, or work from home?)
  • Malpractice insurance
  • Staff salaries (Are you planning to hire an administrative assistant or paralegal?)
  • Utilities (Phone, internet, etc.)

Once you’ve laid out all of these costs, take a second look. Are there places where you could reduce your operating costs, and in turn, increase your profit margins? There are also plenty of tools you can look at to help streamline non-billable tasks and leave yourself more time to practice law. Be sure to look at these options and work them into your operating budget.

Law firm business plan templates

Here are some links where you can find examples of business plans and business plan templates for law firms:

  • Wy’East Law Firm
  • Smith & Jones, P.A.
  • Business Plan Workbook

Final thoughts on how to create a law firm business plan

Having a goal and understanding how to get there is essential for any lawyer deciding to hang their own shingle. Having a written business plan does a few key things:

  • It creates a concrete explanation and breakdown of why you need to work a certain number of hours this week.
  • It keeps you accountable to your goals and commitments.
  • It serves as a comprehensive tool you can share with your firm, investors, and potential partners.

To learn more about how to start a law firm, be sure to check out our complete guide .

And again, remember that technology is a key part of any business plan. Watch how law firms use Clio in this on-demand webinar to learn how to set up an efficient and organized back office.

Written by: Lisa Dimyadi Last updated: September 13, 2023

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Chapter 12 – Business Structures & The Business Plan

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the major types of business structures
  • Describe and develop the components of a business plan
  • Understand key advisors for entrepreneurial ventures

Business Structures

Once an entrepreneur decides to launch a business, one of the most important initial decisions they must make, from a legal perspective, is the legal organization of a business, called the business structure  or  entity selection . The choices are varied, with several basic entities, each with several variations, resulting in multiple permutations.

Many business ventures, regardless of humble beginnings, may have the potential to evolve into significantly larger business ventures. This is what makes the initial decisions so important. The founders should think through every step of business development, beyond the inception or formation, and consider the possible paths of the business. How an entrepreneur organizes the business, or which business structure they choose, will have a significant impact on both the entrepreneur and the business.

Business structure options include traditional choices such as  corporations ,  partnerships , and  sole proprietorships , and hybrid entities such as  limited liability companies (LLCs) ,  limited liability partnerships (LLPs) , and  joint ventures (JVs) . Each structure carries different requirements to set up, different requirements to fulfill (such as taxes and government filings), and varying ownership risks and protections. Entrepreneurs should consider these factors as well as the expected business growth in selecting a structure, while being aware that the structure can and should change as the business venture grows.

For example, if you think you want to share authority, responsibilities, and obligations with other people, your best choice would likely be a partnership, in which other people contribute money and help manage the business. Alternatively, if you prefer to manage the business yourself, a better choice for you might be a single-member LLC, assuming you can borrow money from a lender if needed. Conversely, if you think your idea is so popular that you may grow rapidly and want the ability to raise capital by selling interests in your business through equity or debt, then a corporation would be your best choice. You should obtain legal and tax advice about your structure.

Corporations

A  corporation  is a complex business structure created by filing the appropriate documents with the  state of incorporation . They are created when the original incorporators (owners) file a formal document called the  articles of incorporation , or other similar documentation, with a state agency, often the secretary of state’s office or the state division of corporations. Corporations operate as a separate legal entity apart from the owners. The owners are called  shareholders and can be individuals, other domestic or foreign corporations, LLCs, partnerships, and other legal entities.

Incorporating a company means that the corporation operates as an entity that has some of the same rights as an individual. For example, individuals and corporations can sue and be sued, and corporations have the rights to own property, to enter into and enforce contracts, to make charitable and political donations, to borrow and lend money, and to operate a business as if the corporation were an individual. Most states require a corporation to be registered in that state in order to conduct business operations and to enter into and defend lawsuits in that state, especially if the business was incorporated in a different state. Registration is not the same as forming the initial corporation; it is simply the process of filing informational documents by entities that have already been incorporated in another state. States also tax the operations or sales a corporation makes in the state in which it has certain operations.

Corporations are the only type of entity that the law allows to sell shares of  stock . No other entity, like an LLC or a partnership, may do so. Those individuals or other entities that buy stock become  shareholders  and own the corporation. Some corporations have millions of shareholders, and others have as few as one. State incorporation laws vary: Some require at least three shareholders, but others allow a one-owner business to incorporate. Thus, an entrepreneur may start a company as the sole owner of the company and later incorporate and sell shares of stock or bonds to other investors in the company.

Use of a corporation allows the entrepreneur to shield themselves, and other owners, from personal liability for most legal and financial obligations. The benefit of limited liability is one of the primary reasons entrepreneurs incorporate. However, the administration of a corporation requires more formality than other types of entities, such as sole proprietorships and partnerships. A corporation must follow the rules for such entities. The requirements include maintaining bylaws, holding annual shareholder and director meetings, keeping minutes of shareholder and director major decisions, ensuring that officers and directors sign documents in the name of the corporation, and importantly, maintain separate bank accounts from their owners and keep detailed financial and corporate records.

C Corporations, S Corporations, and B Corporations

The categorization of corporations as either C corporations or S corporations is largely a tax distinction. An  S corporation  is a “pass-through” entity, where shareholders report and claim the business’s profits as their own and pay personal income taxes on it. Alternatively, the government taxes a  C corporation  at the corporate level, and then levies taxes again on the owners’ personal income tax returns if corporate income is distributed to the shareholders as dividends.

Conversely, the distinction between B corporations and C or S corporations is not one based on taxes at all, but rather on purpose and approach. A certified  B corporation is a business that meets a very high standard of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and accountability to balance profit with social purpose. B corporations can also be C corporations or S corporations.

Partnerships and Joint Ventures

A  partnership  is a business entity formed by two or more individuals, or partners, each of whom contributes something such as capital, equipment, or skills. The partners then share profits and losses. A partnership can contract in its own name, take title to assets, and sue or be sued.

A  general partnership  is created when two or more individuals or entities agree to work together to operate a business for profit. A partnership generally operates under the terms of a written  partnership agreement , but there is no requirement that the agreement be in writing. A partnership agreement addresses many important topics, including the monetary investment of each partner, their management duties and other obligations, how profits or losses are to be shared, and all the other rights and duties of the partners. In general partnerships, liability of the owners is considered “joint and several,” meaning that not only is the partnership entity liable, so too is each general partner.

A  limited partnership  requires at least one general partner and one or more limited partners. A  limited partner ’s liability is typically capped at their investment, unless they take on the duties of a general partner. The  general partner  is personally liable for all of the operations of the LP.

LPs have been around for many years and allow investors to provide funding for a business, while limiting their investment and personal risk. LPs are commonly used in businesses that require investment capital but do not require management participation by LP investors. Examples include real estate where the LP buys commercial real estate, making and funding movies or Broadway plays, and drilling oil and gas wells.

A  joint venture  is, in essence, a temporary partnership that two businesses form to gain mutual benefits, such as sharing of expenses and to work toward shared goals and the associated potential revenue. Joint ventures share costs, risks, and rewards. A joint venture, for example, can help speed up expansion of your business by gaining access to additional equity, new markets, or new technology. Partnerships and joint ventures share many similarities, but they do have some important differences.

A joint venture is not recognized as a taxable entity by the IRS. The entrepreneur can use a joint venture agreement to develop a business enterprise, and if the business enterprise is successful, a new entity can be created to take over the operations of the joint venture and move the business to the next level. For this reason, a joint venture can be a good way test a business concept. If successful, then the operations and assets can be rolled into another entity that supports investment from outside investors. The use of a joint venture also allows the parties to test drive the relationship between the entities: to develop a business venture with less risk.

Sole Proprietorships

A  sole proprietorship  is a business entity that is owned and managed by one individual and has very little formal structure and no mandatory filing/registration with the state. This type of business is very popular because it is easy and inexpensive to form. The owner, called a  sole proprietor , is synonymous with the business and is therefore personally liable for all debts of the business. Sole proprietors do not pay separate income tax on the company, instead reporting all losses and profits on their individual tax returns.

The sole proprietorship is the simplest method to operate a business—often under the owner’s name—and the owner is typically taxed directly by the IRS by attaching a Schedule C (Profit or Loss) form to the owner’s individual tax return. In order to document one’s income, instead of being provided a Form W-2 from one’s employer, many self-employed individuals receive one or more 1099-MISC (Miscellaneous Income) forms from clients, which typically demonstrate that the taxpayer is operating a sole proprietorship. Sole proprietors are allowed to deduct their business expenses related to their income and, as both employer and employee, are required to pay the full amount of employment taxes for Social Security and Medicare.

An owner can also operate under a  DBA  or “ doing business as ” filing. A DBA is filed at the relevant state or local government office where the sole proprietor wants to operate under an assumed name. Technically, this is not a new organization: It is just a different name. Any business entity may file for a DBA to operate under an assumed name, and many individuals operate under a DBA to indicate the type of services they are providing, such as Smith’s Roofing Company. It is not uncommon for an individual to name a sole proprietorship using LLC or Co. in its name; however, an individual operating under a DBA or assumed name is not provided any of the protections provided to a corporation of LLC, even if Inc. or LLC is used in the assumed name. A sole proprietor needs to consider the impact of using an assumed name prior to creating a DBA.

Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)

A  limited liability company is a hybrid of a corporation and a partnership that limits the owner’s liability. The big advantage that LLCs have over general partnerships is in the protection of owners from personal liability. Thus, an LLC is similar to a corporation in that it offers owners limited liability . The owners of an LLC are called  members . The owner (if a single-member LLC) or owners often run the company themselves. These are called  member-managed LLCs .

One important distinction between single-member LLCs and sole proprietorships is how the member manages the business funds. As long as the members (owners) do not use the LLC as an alter ego and/or commingle  personal funds with LLC funds, the LLC provides the corporate shield of limited liability to the investors.

The advantage that LLCs have when compared to corporations, especially for entrepreneurs, is that they are easier to form and less cumbersome to operate because there are fewer regulations and laws governing LLC operations. Although LLCs tend to be easier to create, they still require a filing of  articles of formation with the state and the creation of an operating agreement.

Link to Learning: How to file an LLC in North Carolina.

The process to file an LLC in North Carolina is quite simple. Follow the instructions on the Secretary of the State website to find out more.

The Business Plan

The business plan  is a formal document used for the long-range planning of a company’s operation. It typically includes background information, financial information, and a summary of the business. Investors nearly always request a formal business plan because it is an integral part of their evaluation of whether to invest in a company. Although nothing in business is permanent, a business plan typically has components that are more “set in stone” than a  business model canvas , which is more commonly used as a first step in the planning process and throughout the early stages of a nascent business. A business plan is likely to describe the business and industry, market strategies, sales potential, and competitive analysis, as well as the company’s long-term goals and objectives. The business plan usually projects financial data over a three-year period and is typically required by banks or other investors to secure funding. The business plan is a roadmap for the company to follow over multiple years.

Most business plans have several distinct sections. The business plan can range from a few pages to twenty-five pages or more, depending on the purpose and the intended audience. For our discussion, we’ll describe a standard business plan. If you are able to successfully design a business model canvas, then you will have the structure for developing a clear business plan that you can submit for financial consideration.

Key Elements of a Business Plan

  • Executive summary  provides an overview of the total business plan. Written after the other sections are completed, it highlights significant points and, ideally, creates enough excitement to motivate the reader to continue reading.
  • Vision and mission statement  concisely describe the intended strategy and business philosophy for making the vision happen. Company values can also be included in this section.
  • Company overview  explains the type of company, such as manufacturing, retail, or service; provides background information on the company if it already exists; and describes the proposed form of organization—sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation. This section should include company name and location, company objectives, nature and primary product or service of the business, current status (start-up, buyout, or expansion) and history (if applicable), and legal form of organization.
  • Product and/or service plan  describes the product and/or service and points out any unique features, as well as explains why people will buy the product or service. This section should offer the following descriptions: product and/or service; features and benefits of the product or service that provide a competitive advantage; available legal protection—patents, copyrights, and trademarks.
  • Marketing plan  shows who the firm’s customers will be and what type of competition it will face; outlines the marketing strategy and specifies the firm’s competitive edge; and describes the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the business. This section should offer the following descriptions: analysis of target market and profile of target customer; methods of identifying, attracting, and retaining customers; a concise description of the value proposition; selling approach, type of sales force, and distribution channels; types of marketing and sales promotions, advertising, and projected marketing budget; product and/or service pricing strategy; and credit and pricing policies.
  • Management plan  identifies the key players—active investors, management team, board members, and advisors— citing the experience and competence they possess. This section should offer the following descriptions: management team, outside investors and/or directors and their qualifications, outside resource people and their qualifications, and plans for recruiting and training employees.
  • Operating plan  explains the type of manufacturing or operating system to be used and describes the facilities, labor, raw materials, and product-processing requirements. This section should offer the following descriptions: operating or manufacturing methods, operating facilities (location, space, and equipment), quality-control methods, procedures to control inventory and operations, sources of supply, and purchasing procedures.
  • Financial plan  specifies financial needs and contemplated sources of financing, as well as presents projections of revenues, costs, and profits. This section should offer the following descriptions: historical financial statements for the last 3–5 years or as available; pro forma financial statements for 3–5 years, including income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and cash budgets (monthly for first year and quarterly for second year); financial assumptions; breakeven analysis of profits and cash flows; and planned sources of financing.
  • Appendix of supporting documents  provides materials supplementary to the plan. This section should offer the following descriptions: management team biographies; the company’s values; information about the company culture (if it’s unique and contributes to employee retention); and any other important data that support the information in the business plan, such as detailed competitive analysis, customer testimonials, and research summaries.

Business plans should be dynamic documents, reviewed and updated on a regular basis—monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on how the business progresses and the particular industry changes.

Owners should adjust their sales and profit projections up or down as they analyze their markets and operating results. Reviewing your plan on a constant basis will help you identify strengths and weaknesses in your marketing and management strategies and help you evaluate possible opportunities for expansion in light of both your original mission and goals, current market trends, and business results.

Advisors for entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurial success is sustained by those around you. The concept that teamwork leads to individual success is evident in many other areas. All the great National Football League quarterbacks will tell you that they depend as much on their linemen as on their receivers. Pitchers in Major League Baseball need a very close relationship with their catchers, but the fielders are the ones who make most of the outs in the game and can make a pitcher look very good. Surgeons need nurses and anesthesiologists, police officers need good partners as well as dispatchers, ground troops need air support, and airline pilots need fantastic ground crews and maintenance crews, and so on.

In reality, no one works alone. As an entrepreneur, you have the luxury of searching, soliciting, and selecting your own team (See Figure 12.1). Entrepreneurial success depends on who is included on that team, and who is excluded from the team. In this section, we discuss important advisors who can guide your business venture decisions.

legal structure of business plan

One of the most important decisions that a business owner will make before beginning a new venture is hiring a good accountant. Businesses and their owners must be in sound financial health, or the company risks being closed because of financial difficulties. In the early stages of planning a business, the entrepreneur’s personal financial history is the only financial picture that investors, creditors, vendors, or lenders can review. Therefore, it is essential to have a professionally prepared tax return in hand before you approach anyone about opening a new business. Having a professional accountant prepare and file personal tax returns establishes credibility and confidence in an aspiring business owner’s financial decision making. Furthermore, when a business owner is willing to let someone else see all of their finances, it indicates to other professionals that the owner is willing to expose a very personal and sensitive realm—money management.

A highly skilled accountant will help any small business owner create pro forma financial documents, set up proper procedures to record financial activities, set-up payroll, file taxes, give financial advice, and a variety of other activities.

If hiring an attorney to keep you out of trouble is expensive, hiring one to get you out of trouble will be exorbitant. Getting an attorney involved with a business in the very early stages, even in the idea development stage, can be a very good investment that will save a lot of legal expenses and protect the company’s income. Areas of expertise and the ability to practice in certain areas of the law will vary among attorneys. Entrepreneurs must first determine what legal issue they need help with. Then, they would determine the cost of getting legal help as well as the cost of not getting legal help.

Hiring an attorney can be similar to hiring someone to do construction work on your home. Hiring a general contractor who can do most of the work will be cheaper than hiring a general contractor who subcontracts everything out to specialists. Some attorneys are generalists, with a practice that spans many areas in which the entrepreneur or small business owner will need help. Other attorneys are specialists who limit their practice to a few specific areas of expertise and refer clients with needs outside those areas to other specialists. Generalists are frequently less expensive than specialists, who charge higher fees for their in-depth knowledge of particular areas. In many situations, the entrepreneur or small business owner will not need a high level of legal expertise. When in doubt about hiring an attorney, the new entrepreneur can visit with a few members of their established network to get their input before making a decision.

One of the important questions to ask up front is how the attorney bills for services. Some may charge a flat rate for specific services, whereas others will bill at an hourly rate. Attorneys may add any additional costs and expenses to the client’s bill. For example, when filing papers at the county courthouse to register a new company, the attorney may charge for copying, tolls to drive to the courthouse, parking, and mailing fees in addition to completing the actual registration papers. Knowing how the attorney calculates the bill—what fees will be charged and what additional costs will be added—is very important in deciding which attorney to hire.

Banker or Financial Institution

All banks are not the same. Entrepreneurs need to select a bank or financial institution that can meet their current and future needs. Local banks that target a small geographic area are an excellent choice for small, locally centered businesses. Officers of the local bank may personally know local business owners, employees of the local businesses, and other key members of the local community. When a small business has a financial need, officers of the company may make decisions based on the reputation of the entrepreneur and the business. Sometimes a local bank will make loans and provide financial assistance with less scrutiny than an entrepreneur would face at a larger bank. For the small entrepreneurial business, banking is personal. Bankers like to see businesses in their backyard succeed.

Large banks with multiple branches in numerous cities, states, or countries may be a better choice for banking services if your company will have broad geographic and financial needs. With employees, customers, and vendors scattered over a large market, a large company is better off having a bank that mirrors that broad reach. For example, if an entrepreneur starts a business in Raleigh, North Carolina, and banks with a local bank in Raleigh, that intimate relationship between the business and its employees in Raleigh probably works great. However, as the business grows into the Wilmington and Charlotte markets, its banking services should expand too. Likewise, expanding a business across state lines should initiate a thorough review of banking arrangements to ensure that banking services will match the needs of the expanded business.

Large companies with multiple branches or employees over a larger area have bigger demands in banking products and services. They will be better off with larger banks that can respond faster and more effectively to market shifts or individual needs.

Insurance Agent

Having insurance is important for many businesses. The insurance industry is a trove of data regarding almost every aspect of any industry or profession. All of that information is at the fingertips of your insurance agent. Agents can obtain information about any industry by running liability reports according to numbers compiled by the  North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) , a standard used by US federal agencies to collect, analyze, and report statistical information about businesses ; the government provides a searchable database related to the codes as well (https://www.census.gov/eos/www/naics/). Every business in the United States is assigned a NAICS number, and  insurance premiums  are determined by the risk associated within each classification. You can obtain your NAICS number from your federal income tax return form 1120S or 1040 Schedule C. Knowing your business classification and the risks associated with it, your agent can assist you in reclassifying your business and lowering your insurance premiums, a potentially big financial savings.

Industry Expert

Studies show industry expertise and skills are vital to successfully launching and operating one’s own business. However, a lack of industry skills is not an impenetrable barrier to entrepreneurship. In fact, about 15 percent to 20 percent of successful entrepreneurs have no industry experience or have limited knowledge about an industry before entering entrepreneurship. Connecting with an industry expert will provide valuable information on the skills necessary for your business to succeed.

Project Reflection

If you were to move forward with your product, which business structure would you choose? Why? Consider the elements of a business plan, what additional information would you need to collect that was not included in your business model canvas?

Attribution

This work builds upon materials originally developed by the following:

“Introduction to Business”  by  OpenStax, licensed under CC BY 4.0.

“Entrepreneurship” by OpenStax, licensed under CC BY 4.0.

when two or more individuals or entities agree to work together to operate a business for profit and all partners assume personal liability

when two or more individuals or entities agree to work together to operate a business for profit with at least one general partner and one or more limited partners

a temporary partnership that two businesses form to gain mutual benefits, such as sharing of expenses and to work toward shared goals

a business entity that is owned and managed by one individual and has very little formal structure and no mandatory filing/registration with the state

Introduction to Entrepreneurship Copyright © 2024 by Jenn Woodhull-Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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legal structure of business plan

A business plans for lawyers: How to write one and what to include

How To Write Business Plan For Lawyers

  • June 21, 2024

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Jennifer Anderson

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If you’re reading this article, Congratulations! You must be thinking about starting a law firm and are looking for examples of a business plan for lawyers.

Of course, if you’re serious about this prospect, one of the first things you’ll need to do is sit down and draft a business plan. And, as luck would have it, that’s why we’re here today.

In this post, we’re going to walk you through the steps of creating a business plan for your new firm. As Aristotle once said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

Sound advice.

A simple guide for a business plan for lawyers

So, we’ll provide you with the key parts and pieces for creating a law firm business plan along with a sample plan intended to show you how to create your own plan. 

Now, in order to walk you through this, we’ve created a hypothetical firm using certain assumptions, which we’ll list below. Your new firm almost certainly has different factors at play.

That’s alright. We trust you’ll be able to plug in the particulars that suit your business. For now, here’s what our fictional new law firm looks like:

  • This California-based law firm is founded by four partners who were all business owners before going to law school. Using our fictional founders’ last names, we’ll call the firm Smith, Jones, Jackson, & Wyle, LLP.
  • The firm aims to have multiple practice areas including business litigation, labor and employment, technology, and real estate.
  • The target clients will be small-to-midsize regional businesses throughout the state. 
  • The partners’ goal is to hire up to 10 associates over the next five years. 
  • The firm’s main competitors are other small, regional business-focused firms. 
  • Initial marketing ideas include social media, networking with former business contacts, and becoming thought leaders in various areas of the law through blogging and public speaking.
  • The partners envision being highly tech dependent, utilizing CRMs, AI, and other tech tools as much as possible. 
  • The founding partners’ goal is to launch the firm in 6 months and to be profitable within a year.

With those basic facts in mind, let’s break down the various components that we’ll include in our business plan:

1. Executive summary

A business plan for lawyers, like any plan, should start with an e xecutive summary . This section concisely outlines a business plan’s key points, goals, and strategies. Ultimately, it serves as a snapshot for quick understanding and decision-making and should include the following parts:

Mission statement

A Mission Statement is like the elevator speech for your new firm. It charts the course for your goals, objectives, clients – and also quickly lays out your proposed methods for reaching those goals. A sample Mission Statement for our firm might say: 

At Smith, Jones, Jackson, & Wyle, LLP (“SJJW”) we are dedicated to empowering small-to-midsize businesses in California with comprehensive legal solutions. With a foundation built on the rich business acumen and legal expertise of our founding partners, we aim to bridge the gap between business challenges and legal success. Our mission is to provide personalized, effective, and technology-driven legal services that not only address today’s legal needs but also anticipate tomorrow’s challenges. We are committed to becoming trusted advisors to our clients who leverage our unique background as former business owners to offer practical, actionable legal advice. Through innovation, integrity, and a client-focused approach, SJJW strives to achieve excellence in all aspects of our service, fostering long-term partnerships with our clients and contributing to their success.

Here, you will outline the firm’s growth objectives and provide a snapshot of the firm’s operations.

SJJW aims to become the leading legal advisor for California’s small to mid-sized businesses, expand our team with 10 associates within five years, and leverage technology to enhance efficiency and client satisfaction.

Brief overview

Some business plans also include a brief overview of the business. Our hypothetical firm’s overview might look like this:

Founded by four partners with business ownership backgrounds, our California-based law firm specializes in serving small-to-midsize businesses, emphasizing technology-driven solutions and personalized legal services to navigate complex challenges.

2. Firm description

Your law firm description will provide a bit more detail about the make-up of your business. This section should include information on: (1) legal structure and history; (2) location and areas of practice; and (3) vision for the future: 

SJJW is a dynamic legal partnership founded by four seasoned attorneys who are also experienced business owners. Based in California, our firm offers comprehensive legal services tailored to the needs and challenges of small-to-midsize businesses across the state. Our firm practices in four distinct areas: Business Litigation, Labor and Employment, Technology, and Real Estate. With a deep understanding of both the legal landscape and the entrepreneurial journey, our team is uniquely positioned to provide strategic, effective solutions across this range of legal disciplines. As an LLP, we emphasize collaboration, integrity, and innovation, leveraging cutting-edge technology to deliver exceptional service and outcomes for our clients. Our commitment to excellence, combined with our business-savvy approach, makes us a trusted partner for businesses seeking to navigate legal complexities with confidence.

3. Market analysis

The next part of our business plan for lawyers is the market analysis. Your market analysis is where you do the heavy lifting around how your firm fits into California’s extensive legal market. It should include information on your target market, a competitive analysis, and the need for your particular firm within the region. 

Target market

SJJW’s primary target market consists of small-to-midsize businesses in California, spanning various industries such as technology, retail, real estate, energy, and manufacturing. These businesses often encounter unique legal challenges that require personalized attention and expertise. With the state’s diverse economic landscape, there is a substantial demand for legal services that cater specifically to the nuanced needs of these entities, from regulatory compliance and intellectual property protection to labor disputes and contract negotiations.

Competitive landscape

The legal services market in California is highly competitive, with numerous firms vying for the business sector’s attention. Small, regional law firms similar to ours form the bulk of this competition, offering a range of general and specialized services. However, our differentiation lies in the unique blend of legal expertise and real-world business experience possessed by our founding partners. This combination positions us to offer unparalleled insights and practical solutions that resonate with business owners.

Market trends

The increasing complexity of regulatory environments, coupled with the rapid evolution of technology and the digital economy, has led businesses to seek legal partners who are not only advisors but also innovators. There’s a growing trend towards legal services that are highly specialized yet broadly knowledgeable about the cross-functional impacts of legal decisions.

Opportunities

Given our firm’s unique positioning and expertise, significant opportunities exist to capture market share by:

  • Offering specialized services that address the intersection of business operations and legal requirements, such as compliance, data privacy, and e-commerce.
  • Developing niche expertise in emerging areas of law that are particularly relevant to California’s business environment, such as tech startups, renewable energy, and digital media.
  • Leveraging technology to provide more efficient, transparent, and cost-effective legal services, appealing to the tech-savvy and cost-conscious small-to-midsize business sector.
  • Building strong relationships through networking and thought leadership, establishing the founding partners as go-to experts in legal matters relating to business.

Key challenges include establishing a distinct brand in a crowded market, continually adapting to rapidly changing legal and technological landscapes, and ensuring the firm remains accessible and appealing to the target market’s cost and value expectations.

In summary, the market analysis underscores the potential for SJJW to carve out a significant presence in California’s legal services sector for small-to-midsize businesses. By focusing on our strengths and strategically addressing the market’s needs, we can achieve substantial growth and success.

4. Marketing and sales strategy

The marketing and sales strategy is a crucial but often neglected aspect of any business plan for lawyers. This is where you lay out how you’re going to attract clients, convince them to use your firm’s services, and – importantly – how you’re going to retain those clients long term: 

Our objective is to establish SJJW as the premier legal service provider for small to mid-sized businesses in California, leveraging our unique blend of business acumen and legal expertise.

Marketing strategy

Brand positioning

Position the firm as not just legal experts, but as partners in our clients’ business success, emphasizing our founding partners’ background as business owners.

Digital marketing

  • Website : Develop a professional website highlighting our expertise, services, and the unique value we bring to businesses.
  • Content marketing : Regularly publish blogs, articles, and whitepapers on legal issues affecting our target market, positioning us as thought leaders.
  • Social media : Engage with our audience on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, sharing insights, legal updates, and participating in discussions relevant to our target industries.

Networking and partnerships

  • Leverage the existing business contacts of our founding partners and actively participate in industry events, seminars, and local business associations to build relationships and referrals.
  • Establish partnerships with complementary service providers (e.g., accounting firms, business consultants) to offer bundled services or referrals.

Public relations

  • Engage in speaking opportunities at industry conferences, webinars, and local business events to increase visibility and establish credibility.
  • Utilize press releases for significant firm milestones, new service offerings, or significant case wins to build brand awareness.

Sales strategy

Client acquisition

  • Implement a CRM system to manage leads and opportunities effectively and utilize  personalized follow-up and engagement strategies.
  • Offer free initial consultations to prospective clients that provide immediate value and foster trust from the first interaction.

Client retention

  • Provide exceptional client service with a focus on transparency, regular communication, and technology-driven solutions for ease of access and efficiency.
  • Implement a client feedback loop to continuously improve services and address client needs proactively.

Cross-selling and up-selling

Once a client relationship is established, SJJW will identify additional legal needs or areas where the firm can provide value. The goal is to make sure all clients are aware of the full range of services offered.

By executing this comprehensive marketing and sales strategy, SJJW aims to rapidly grow its client base while maintaining high levels of client satisfaction and loyalty.

5. Operations plan

An operations plan outlines the day-to-day activities required to run your law firm. It details  things like processes, technology, staffing, and resources needed to achieve business objectives.

To ensure efficient, effective, and client-focused legal service delivery through advanced technology integration and streamlined processes.

Legal operations

Case managemen t: Implement a state-of-the-art Case Management System (CMS) to track and manage all cases efficiently, ensuring deadlines are met, and clients are kept informed.

Document management : Utilize a secure, cloud-based Document Management System (DMS) for storing, retrieving, and sharing documents with clients and within the team, enhancing collaboration and security.

Client communication : Adopt Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to manage client interactions, ensuring personalized and timely communication across all touchpoints.

Technology integration

Artificial Intelligence (AI) : Leverage AI tools for legal research, document review, and predictive analytics to increase accuracy and reduce turnaround times.

Automation tools : Implement automation in routine tasks such as billing, client notifications, and document drafting to improve efficiency and reduce the risk of human error.

Human resources

Team structure : SJJW will initially be comprised of four partners and support staff, with plans to expand to up to 10 associates within five years. It is our goal to foster a culture of teamwork and continuous learning.

Professional development : Invest in ongoing training and professional development opportunities for all staff, ensuring the team remains at the forefront of legal and technological advancements.

Client service

Service delivery model : Offer flexible service models including traditional hourly billing and alternative arrangements like flat fees for defined services.  

Client feedback system : Implement a system for collecting and acting on client feedback to continually refine and improve service offerings.

Compliance and quality assurance

Regulatory compliance : Ensure strict adherence to legal and ethical standards, with regular reviews of compliance protocols, especially regarding data protection and privacy laws.

Quality control : Establish a quality control framework to review legal work internally, guaranteeing the highest standards of legal service.

6. Financial plan

Your financial plan is one of the most critical aspects of a business plan for lawyers. There are too many factors at play here for us to create a meaningful sample plan for our hypothetical firm, but here are the details you definitely want to include in your plan:

Initial capital and use

Detail how the initial capital provided by the founding partners will be allocated (e.g., office space, technology, marketing, initial payroll).

Financial projections

Include projections for revenue, expenses, and profitability for the first 1-5 years. Use realistic assumptions based on the size of your target market, expected client acquisition rates, billing rates, and operational costs. 

Revenue projections

Estimate potential earnings from client work, taking into account the growth in associate numbers and the capacity to handle more cases and matters.

Expense projections

Forecast expenses, including salaries, technology investments, office overhead, and marketing costs.

Profitability analysis

Calculate when the firm expects to become profitable. Our hypothetical firm, for example, aims to be profitable within the first year.

7. Legal and regulatory compliance

What kind of lawyers would you be if your plan didn’t include a section on legal and regulatory compliance ? A business plan for lawyers should always cover compliance, particularly in an environment where it is becoming increasingly important for firms to accommodate it .

This is where you’ll provide details regarding legal practice, data protection, and any relevant regulations for your areas of practice.

To uphold the highest standards of legal and ethical integrity by ensuring full compliance with all applicable laws, regulations, and professional guidelines governing the practice of law in California.

Compliance framework

State Bar of California : SJJW will strictly adhere to the rules and ethical standards set forth by the State Bar of California, including those related to client confidentiality, conflict of interest, and professional conduct.

Data protection and privacy : We will implement powerful data security measures compliant with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and any relevant federal laws. We will also protect client information through encrypted storage and secure communication channels.

Business operations compliance : As an LLP, SJJW will maintain compliance with California’s business operation laws, including partnership registration requirements, financial reporting, and tax obligations.

Employment law : It is our steadfast aim to follow all state and federal employment laws, ensuring fair labor practices, workplace safety, and equal opportunity employment within the firm.

Continuous monitoring and education

Regular training : We will conduct or host ongoing legal education and training for all partners and staff on compliance matters, changes in the law, and best practices in legal ethics and data protection.

Compliance audits : The firm will perform regular internal audits to review and assess compliance with all legal, regulatory, and ethical standards, identifying and rectifying any potential issues proactively.

Risk management

Professional liability insurance : Before beginning operations, SJJW will secure comprehensive professional liability insurance to protect the firm and its clients against potential legal malpractice claims or other claims.

Conflict of interest checks : The firm will implement a rigorous system for conducting conflict of interest checks for every new client and case, with the goal of preventing ethical breaches and maintaining the firm’s integrity.

Client confidentiality and trust

Confidentiality protocols : SJJW will establish strict confidentiality protocols to protect client information, including secure document handling procedures and restricted access to sensitive data.

Client trust accounts : In accordance with California law, the firm will manage client funds with the utmost care, adhering to the State Bar’s guidelines for handling and accounting for trust accounts, ensuring transparency and accountability.

8. Milestones and timeline

Finally, a business plan for lawyers should include a section that details the timing involved in getting your law firm up and running. Again, there are probably too many details to give an effective sample here, but at the very least, your plan should include the following components:

Launch timeline

Here, you’ll plot out the key steps leading up to your launch date , including legal organization, the establishment of your office space, technology implementation, and initial marketing.

Growth milestones

Lawyers love deadlines and the growth milestones section is a good place to create them. Set specific goals for things like client acquisition, revenue targets, and team expansion to be reached within the first year and beyond.

Obviously, your firm’s business plan will include a lot more detail than our hypothetical plan for SJJW. We hope, however, that this sample plan gets you started on an enjoyable journey to starting a successful law firm.

Starting a law firm is a challenging yet rewarding endeavor. A well-crafted business plan for lawyers means getting all the essentials in place to guide your firm’s growth and success.

Get your executive summary, firm description, market analysis, marketing and sales strategy, operations plan, financial plan, and legal compliance all covered before embarking.

With careful planning and execution, you can build a firm that not only meets but exceeds your expectations, providing exceptional legal services to your clients.

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Elon Musk wins back his $44.9 billion Tesla pay package in shareholder vote

The Associated Press

Tesla CEO Elon Musk leaves the Tesla Gigafactory for electric cars after a visit in Gruenheide near Berlin on March 13, 2024.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk leaves the Tesla Gigafactory for electric cars after a visit in Gruenheide near Berlin on March 13, 2024. Ebrahim Noroozi/AP hide caption

DETROIT — Tesla shareholders voted Thursday to restore CEO Elon Musk's record $44.9 billion pay package that was thrown out by a Delaware judge earlier this year, sending a strong vote of confidence in his leadership of the electric vehicle maker.

The favorable vote doesn’t necessarily mean that Musk will get the all-stock compensation anytime soon. The package is likely to remain tied up in the Delaware Chancery Court and Supreme Court for months as Tesla tries to overturn the Delaware judge's rejection.

Musk has raised doubts about his future with Tesla this year, writing on X, the social media platform he owns, that he wanted a 25% stake in the company in order to stop him from taking artificial intelligence development elsewhere. The higher stake is needed to control the use of AI, he has said.

Tesla also has struggled with falling sales and profit margins as demand for electric vehicles slows worldwide.

SpaceX's mega rocket Starship launched from SpaceX's Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas on Thursday, June 5, 2024.

Elon Musk’s giant Starship rocket rumbles into space once more

But at the company's annual meeting Thursday in Austin, Texas, Musk reassured shareholders that he will stick around, telling them he can't sell any stock in the compensation package for five years.

“It's not actually cash, and I can't cut and run, nor would I want to,” he said.

Vote totals on Musk's pay weren't immediately announced, but the company said shareholders voted for Musk's compensation plan, which initially was approved by the board and stockholders six years ago.

Tesla last valued the package at $44.9 billion in an April regulatory filing. It was once as much as $56 billion but has declined in value in tandem with Tesla's stock, which has dropped about 25% so far this year.

Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick ruled in January in a shareholder’s lawsuit that Musk essentially controlled the Tesla board when it ratified the package in 2018, and that it failed to fully inform shareholders who approved it the same year.

Tesla has said it would appeal, but asked shareholders to reapprove the package at Thursday’s annual meeting.

A separate vote approved moving the company’s legal home to Texas to avoid the courts in Delaware, where Tesla is registered as a corporation.

“Its incredible," a jubilant Musk told the crowd gathered at Tesla's headquarters and large factory in Austin, Texas. “I think we’re not just opening a new chapter for Tesla, we’re starting a new book.”

Musk and Tesla didn’t win everything. Shareholders approved measures that trimmed board member terms from three years to one and cut the required vote on shareholder proposals to a simple majority.

Legal experts say the issue of Musk’s pay will still be decided in Delaware, largely because Musk’s lawyers have assured McCormick they won’t try to move the case to Texas.

Tesla profits have plummeted. Elon Musk remains all-in on robotaxis

Tesla profits have plummeted. Elon Musk remains all-in on robotaxis

But they differ on whether the new ratification of the pay package will make it easier for Tesla to get it approved.

Charles Elson, a retired professor and founder of the corporate governance center at the University of Delaware, said he doesn’t think the vote will influence McCormick, who issued a decision based on the law.

McCormick’s ruling essentially made the 2018 compensation package a gift to Musk, Elson said, and that would need unanimous shareholder approval, an impossible threshold. The vote, he said, is interesting from a public perception standpoint, but “in my view it does not affect the ruling.”

John Lawrence, a Dallas-based lawyer with Baker Botts who defends corporations against shareholder lawsuits, agreed the vote doesn’t end the legal dispute and automatically give Musk the stock options. But he says it gives Tesla a strong argument to get the ruling overturned.

He expects Musk and Tesla to argue that shareholders were fully informed before the latest votes, so McCormick should reverse her decision. But the plaintiff in the lawsuit will argue that the vote has no impact and isn’t legally binding, Lawrence said.

The vote, he said, was done under Delaware law and should be considered by the judge.

“This shareholder vote is a strong signal that you now have an absolutely well-informed body of shareholders,” he said. “The judge in Delaware still could decide that this doesn’t change a thing about her prior ruling and doesn’t require her to make any different ruling going forward. But I think it definitely gives Tesla and Musk strong ammunition to try to get her to revisit this.”

If the ruling stands, then Musk likely will appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, Lawrence said.

Multiple institutional investors have come out against Musk’s sizeable payout, some citing the company’s recent struggles. But analysts said votes by individual shareholders likely put Musk’s pay over the top.

Earlier Thursday, Tesla disclosed that shareholders were voting for Musk's pay package by a wide margin. That drove the company's shares up 3% by the time the markets closed.

After the votes were announced, Musk began telling shareholders about new developments in the company's “Full Self-Driving” system. He has staked the company's future on development of autonomous vehicles, robots and artificial intelligence.

“Full Self-Driving” keeps improving with new versions, and its safety per mile is better than human drivers, Musk said.

"This is actually going to work. This is going to happen. Mark my words, this is just a matter of time,” he said.

Despite its name, “Full Self-Driving” can’t drive itself, and the company says human drivers must be ready to intervene at all times. Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” hardware went on sale late in 2015, and Musk has used the name ever since as the company gathered data to teach its computers how to drive.

In 2019, Musk promised a fleet of autonomous robotaxis by 2020, and he said in early 2022 that the cars would be autonomous that year. In April of last year, Musk said the system should be ready in 2023.

Since 2021, Tesla has been beta-testing “Full Self-Driving” using volunteer owners. U.S. safety regulators last year made Tesla recall the software after finding that the system misbehaved around intersections and could violate traffic laws.

Musk also said the company is making huge progress on its Optimus humanoid robot. Currently it has two working at its factory in Fremont, California, that take battery cells off a production line and put them in shipping containers, he said.

Despite laying off the team working on Tesla’s Supercharger electric vehicle charging network, Musk said he thinks the company will deploy more chargers this year “that are actually working” than the rest of the industry. In the second half of the year, he expects to spend $500 million on Superchargers, Musk said.

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  1. Guide to Choosing a Legal Structure for Your Business

    A business legal structure, also known as a business entity, is a government classification that regulates certain aspects of your business. ... Turn to your business plan to review your goals and ...

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    Common items to include are credit histories, resumes, product pictures, letters of reference, licenses, permits, patents, legal documents, and other contracts. Example traditional business plans. Before you write your business plan, read the following example business plans written by fictional business owners.

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    The main benefit of an LLC is that your personal assets are shielded from liability - hence the name, "limited liability" company. Taxes still pass through in LLCs. If you are a single-member LLC, the taxation is similar to a sole proprietorship. In a multi-member LLC, you are taxed on just your portion of the profits.

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    A B Corp or benefit corporation is the legal structure of a business that stands behind a social cause but is a for-profit organization. For example, organization XYZ works towards the social and economic upliftment of underprivileged children. ... In conclusion, the legal structure of a business plan greatly depends upon the said firm's ...

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    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.

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    4. Determine how many cases you need to meet that revenue goal. If you are only handling two or three cases per month, the number you came up with above might look outrageous. It's not. For example, let's use the 2023 median pay of $126,930 a year in annual revenue as our goal, with a flat fee of $3,000 per client.

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    Business Structures. Once an entrepreneur decides to launch a business, one of the most important initial decisions they must make, from a legal perspective, is the legal organization of a business, called the business structure or entity selection.The choices are varied, with several basic entities, each with several variations, resulting in multiple permutations.

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