What is a Business Plan? Definition, Tips, and Templates

Years ago, I had an idea to launch a line of region-specific board games. I knew there was a market for games that celebrated local culture and heritage. I was so excited about the concept and couldn’t wait to get started.

But my idea never took off. Why? Because I didn‘t have a plan. I lacked direction, missed opportunities, and ultimately, the venture never got off the ground.

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And that’s exactly why a business plan is important. It cements your vision, gives you clarity, and outlines your next step.

In this post, I‘ll explain what a business plan is, the reasons why you’d need one, identify different types of business plans, and what you should include in yours.

Table of Contents

The business plan is an undeniably critical component to getting any company off the ground. It’s key to securing financing, documenting your business model, outlining your financial projections, and turning that nugget of a business idea into a reality.

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Working on your business plan? Try using our Business Plan Template. Pre-filled with the sections a great business plan needs, the template will give aspiring entrepreneurs a feel for what a business plan is, what should be in it, and how it can be used to establish and grow a business from the ground up.

Purposes of a Business Plan

In an era where 48% of businesses survive half a decade on, having a clear, defined, and well-thought-out business plan is a crucial first step for setting up a business for long-term success.

Here’s why I think a business plan is important:

1. Securing Financing From Investors

Since its contents revolve around how businesses succeed, break-even, and turn a profit, a business plan is used as a tool for sourcing capital. This document is an entrepreneur’s way of showing potential investors or lenders how their capital will be put to work and how it will help the business thrive.

I’ve seen that all banks, investors, and venture capital firms will want to see a business plan before handing over their money. Therefore, these investors need to know if — and when — they‘ll be making their money back (and then some).

Additionally, they’ll want to read about the process and strategy for how the business will reach those financial goals, which is where the context provided by sales, marketing, and operations plans come into play.

2. Documenting a Company’s Strategy and Goals

I think a business plan should leave no stone unturned.

Business plans can span dozens or even hundreds of pages, affording their drafters the opportunity to explain what a business’ goals are and how the business will achieve them.

To show potential investors that they’ve addressed every question and thought through every possible scenario, entrepreneurs should thoroughly explain their marketing, sales, and operations strategies — from acquiring a physical location for the business to explaining a tactical approach for marketing penetration.

These explanations should ultimately lead to a business’ break-even point supported by a sales forecast and financial projections, with the business plan writer being able to speak to the why behind anything outlined in the plan.

3. Legitimizing a Business Idea

I’ve seen that everyone‘s got a great idea for a company — until they put pen to paper and realize that it’s not exactly feasible.

A business plan is an aspiring entrepreneur’s way to prove that a business idea is actually worth pursuing.

As entrepreneurs document their go-to-market process, capital needs, and expected return on investment, entrepreneurs likely come across a few hiccups that will make them second guess their strategies and metrics — and that’s exactly what the business plan is for.

It ensures you have everything in order before bringing their business idea to the world and reassures the readers that whoever wrote the plan is serious about the idea, having put hours into thinking of the business idea, fleshing out growth tactics, and calculating financial projections.

4. Getting an A in Your Business Class

Speaking from personal experience, there‘s a chance you’re here to get business plan ideas for your Business 101 class project.

If that’s the case, might I suggest checking out this post on How to Write a Business Plan, which provides a section-by-section guide on creating your plan?

5. Identifying Potential Problems

Business plans act as early warning systems that identify potential problems before they escalate into major obstacles.

How? When you conduct thorough market research, analyze competitor strategies, and evaluate financial projections, your plan pinpoints vulnerabilities and risks. This allows you to develop contingency plans and risk mitigation strategies.

This helps you prevent costly mistakes and shows investors and lenders you’re well-prepared and have considered various scenarios.

6. Attracts and Retains Talent

A well-articulated plan outlines your company’s vision, mission, and values, showcasing a clear direction and purpose. People who want meaningful work that aligns with their ambitions will love this.

Also, it shows the company’s potential for growth and stability. This instills confidence in employees and assures them of a secure future and opportunities for career advancement.

When you show growth potential and highlight a positive work culture, your business plan becomes a magnet for top talent.

7. Provides a Roadmap

A business plan provides a detailed roadmap for your company’s future. It outlines your objectives, strategies, and the specific actions you need to achieve your goals.

When you define your path forward, a business plan helps you stay focused and on track, even when you face challenges or distractions. It’s a great reference tool that allows you to make smart decisions that align with your overall vision.

This way, having a comprehensive roadmap in the form of a business plan provides direction and clarity at every stage of your business journey.

8. Serves as a Marketing Tool

A business plan is not only an internal guide but also serves as a powerful marketing tool. Your business plan can showcase your company‘s strengths, unique value proposition, and growth potential when you’re looking for investors, partnerships, or new clients.

It provides a professional and polished overview of your business, which shows your commitment and strategic thinking to potential stakeholders.

Your business plan helps you attract the right people by clearly articulating your target market, competitive advantages, and financial projections. In summary, it acts as a persuasive sales pitch.

1. Business Plan Subtitle

Every great business plan starts with a captivating title and subtitle. You’ll want to make it clear that the document is, in fact, a business plan, but the subtitle can help tell the story of your business in just a short sentence.

2. Executive Summary

Although this is the last part of the business plan that you’ll write, it’s the first section (and maybe the only section) that stakeholders will read.

The executive summary of a business plan sets the stage for the rest of the document. It includes your company’s mission or vision statement, value proposition, and long-term goals.

3. Company Description

This brief part of your business plan will detail your business name, years in operation, key offerings, and positioning statement.

You might even add core values or a short history of the company. The company description’s role in a business plan is to introduce your business to the reader in a compelling and concise way.

4. The Business Opportunity

The business opportunity should convince investors that your organization meets the needs of the market in a way that no other company can.

This section explains the specific problem your business solves within the marketplace and how it solves them. It will include your value proposition as well as some high-level information about your target market.

business plan components

5. Competitive Analysis

Just about every industry has more than one player in the market. Even if your business owns the majority of the market share in your industry or your business concept is the first of its kind, you still have competition.

In the competitive analysis section, you’ll take an objective look at the industry landscape to determine where your business fits. A SWOT analysis is an organized way to format this section.

6. Target Market

Who are the core customers of your business and why? The target market portion of your business plan outlines this in detail. The target market should explain the demographics, psychographics, behavioristics, and geographics of the ideal customer.

7. Marketing Plan

Marketing is expansive, and it’ll be tempting to cover every type of marketing possible, but a brief overview of how you’ll market your unique value proposition to your target audience, followed by a tactical plan, will suffice.

Think broadly and narrow down from there: Will you focus on a slow-and-steady play where you make an upfront investment in organic customer acquisition? Or will you generate lots of quick customers using a pay-to-play advertising strategy?

This kind of information should guide the marketing plan section of your business plan.

8. Financial Summary

Money doesn’t grow on trees. Even the most digital, sustainable businesses have expenses. Outlining a financial summary of where your business is currently and where you’d like it to be in the future will substantiate this section.

Consider including any monetary information that will give potential investors a glimpse into the financial health of your business. Assets, liabilities, expenses, debt, investments, revenue, and more are all useful additions here.

9. Team

So, you’ve outlined some great goals, the business opportunity is valid, and the industry is ready for what you have to offer. Who’s responsible for turning all this high-level talk into results?

The “team” section of your business plan answers that question by providing an overview of the roles responsible for each goal.

Don’t worry if you don’t have every team member on board yet. Knowing what roles to hire for is helpful as you seek funding from investors.

10. Funding Requirements

Remember that one of the goals of a business plan is to secure funding from investors, so you’ll need to include funding requirements you’d like them to fulfill.

Considering that global funding fell 61% from 2021 to 2023, it’s very important to be clear in this section. Include the amount your business needs, for what reasons, and for how long.

There’s no one size fits all business plan as there are several types of businesses in the market today. From startups with just one founder to historic household names that need to stay competitive, every type of business needs a business plan that’s tailored to its needs. Below are a few of the most common types of business plans.

For even more examples, check out these sample business plans to help you write your own.

1. Startup Business Plan

business plan example, startup

As one of the most common types of business plans, a startup business plan is for new business ideas. This plan lays the foundation for the eventual success of a business.

I think the biggest challenge with the startup business plan is that it’s written completely from scratch. Startup business plans often reference existing industry data. They also explain unique business strategies and go-to-market plans.

Because startup business plans expand on an original idea, the contents will vary by the top priority goals.

For example, say a startup is looking for funding. If capital is a priority, this business plan might focus more on financial projections than marketing or company culture.

Eric Heckstall, the founder and CEO of EDH Signature Inc., which offers premier grooming products, also suggests keeping your startup business plan short.

“The traditional business plan can be 40+ pages, which is too large of a document to really be useful, can be difficult for staff to understand, and have to dig for information which most people won’t do,” Heckstall says.

Conversely, a one-to-two-page business plan improves clarity and focus. Heckstall says this format “is easy to use on a day-to-day basis, teams as well as potential investors can understand the purpose and direction of the company, and can easily be incorporated into team meetings.”

2. Feasibility Business Plan

business plan example, feasability

This type of business plan focuses on a single essential aspect of the business — the product or service. It may be part of a startup business plan or a standalone plan for an existing organization. This comprehensive plan may include:

  • A detailed product description.
  • Market analysis.
  • Technology needs.
  • Production needs.
  • Financial sources.
  • Production operations.

Startups can fail because of a lack of market need and mistimed products. Plus, nearly half of entrepreneurs, founders, CEOs, and COOs report that price sensitivity and evolving market conditions are the number one prospect and customer challenges they face right now.

Some businesses will complete a feasibility study to explore ideas and narrow product plans to the best choice. They conduct these studies before completing the feasibility business plan. Then, the feasibility plan centers on that one product or service.

Zach Dannett, co-founder at rug company Tumble highlights how some business owners take a very idealistic approach too. And forget barriers to entry like regulatory issues in the process.

He adds how considering this aspect in their business plan helped.

Before launching the team, Dannett first took time to understand regulatory requirements in our industry, checking to make sure we needed to secure any certifications or licenses.

Then, “we reviewed financial requirements, which would cover initial investments, operational costs, and potential expenses. We then conducted thorough market research to understand our market, how saturated this market is, and identify major competitors with significant market share,” Dannett says

3. Internal Business Plan

business plan example, internal

Internal business plans help leaders communicate company goals, strategy, and performance. This helps the business align and work toward objectives more effectively.

Besides the typical elements in a startup business plan, an internal business plan may also include:

  • Department-specific budgets.
  • Target demographic analysis.
  • Market size and share of voice analysis.
  • Action plans.
  • Sustainability plans.

Most external-facing business plans focus on raising capital and support for a business. But, an internal business plan helps keep the business mission consistent in the face of change.

You can also reduce your workload by using a free business template that helps you get a headstart on what to include.

4. Strategic Business Plan

business plan example, strategic

Strategic business plans focus on long-term objectives for your business. They usually cover the first three to five years of operations. This is different from the typical startup business plan which focuses on the first one to three years. The audience for this plan is also primarily internal stakeholders.

These types of business plans may include:

  • Relevant data and analysis.
  • Assessments of company resources.
  • Vision and mission statements.
  • Action plans.

It’s important to remember that, while many businesses create a strategic plan before launching, some business owners just jump in.

David Sides, marketing specialist at The Gori Law, highlights how it’s important not to create this plan in isolation and involve key stakeholders from across the organization in the planning process.

“We make a point of bringing together attorneys, paralegals, and support staff to discuss our long-term goals and how we can work together to achieve them. This not only helps ensure buy-in and alignment, but it also allows you to tap into a wider range of perspectives and ideas,” Sides says.

This way, the strategic business plan can add value by outlining how your business plans to reach specific goals and considering a holistic perspective from the most important stakeholders. This type of planning can also help a business anticipate future challenges.

5. Business Acquisition Plan

business plan example, business acquisition

Investors use business plans to acquire existing businesses, too — not just new businesses.

I recommend including costs, schedules, or management requirements. This data will come from an acquisition strategy.

A business plan for an existing company will explain:

  • How an acquisition will change its operating model.
  • What will stay the same under new ownership.
  • Why things will change or stay the same.
  • Acquisition planning documentation.
  • Timelines for acquisition.

Ilia Tretiakov, owner and lead strategist, at So Good Digital, a marketing agency suggests adding a Day Zero Plan. This is a thorough plan outlining the steps you will take the moment the acquisition is completed.

It consists of stakeholder communication plans, critical system integration, quick operational adjustments, and cultural alignment initiatives.

Here’s why Ilia believes it’s important.

“A Day Zero Plan establishes the framework for the integration process and guarantees a seamless transition. This comprehensive strategy goes above and beyond the typical post-acquisition integration plan, taking care of urgent issues and laying the groundwork for long-term success,” Tretiakov says,

Apart from this, I believe the business plan should speak to the current state of the business and why it’s up for sale.

For example, if someone is purchasing a failing business, the business plan should explain why the business is being purchased. It should also include:

  • What the new owner will do to turn the business around.
  • Historic business metrics.
  • Sales projections after the acquisition.
  • Justification for those projections.

6. Business Repositioning Plan

business plan example, repositioning

When a business wants to avoid acquisition, reposition its brand, or try something new, CEOs or owners will develop a business repositioning plan.

This plan will:

  • Acknowledge the current state of the company.
  • State a vision for the future of the company.
  • Explain why the business needs to reposition itself.
  • Outline a process for how the company will adjust.

Companies planning for a business reposition often do so — proactively or retroactively — due to a shift in market trends and customer needs.

For example, shoe brand AllBirds plans to refocus its brand on core customers and shift its go-to-market strategy. These decisions are a reaction to lackluster sales following product changes and other missteps.

7. Expansion or Growth Business Plan

When your business is ready to expand, a growth business plan creates a useful structure for reaching specific targets.

For example, a successful business expanding into another location can use a growth business plan. This is because it may also mean the business needs to focus on a new target market or generate more capital.

This type of plan usually covers the next year or two of growth. It often references current sales, revenue, and successes. It may also include:

  • SWOT analysis.
  • Growth opportunity studies.
  • Financial goals and plans.
  • Marketing plans.
  • Capability planning.

These types of business plans will vary by business, but they can help you quickly rally around new priorities to drive growth.

Getting Started With Your Business Plan

At the end of the day, a business plan is simply an explanation of a business idea and why it will be successful. The more detail and thought you put into it, the more successful your plan — and the business it outlines — will be.

I personally recommend using the feasibility business plan template. It helps me assess the viability of my business idea before diving in head-first.

By completing a feasibility plan, I feel more confident and prepared to tackle the full business plan. Plus, it saves me time and effort in the long run by ensuring I’m pursuing an idea with real potential.

When writing your business plan, you’ll benefit from extensive research, feedback from your team or board of directors, and a solid template to organize your thoughts. If you need one of these, download HubSpot’s Free Business Plan Template below to get started.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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