How to write a business plan – with free template

Having a finely tuned business plan in place is critical to the success of any business, regardless of its shape or size.

26 November 2019

Simply put, every business needs to have a business plan written up and kept close to hand. From explaining market opportunities and attracting potential investors to providing a path for your company to take, it’s an essential document. If you don’t know where to start, however, then creating such an extensive document can be daunting.

For those looking to fine-tune the future of their business, we’ve produced this helpful resource on how to create a business plan. Whatever the sector your business works in, be sure to consult this handy how-to and get ready to plot a course for success going forward. We’ve even provided a free template as a starting point when you’ve finished reading.

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business plan writing

Why write a business plan?

A business plan makes clear the objectives of your business, what you need to do to make things happen, and any pain points that you may meet along the way. It allows you to bring into focus what needs to be prioritised and what you need to spend more time on.

A properly crafted business plan will:

  • Plot a direction for the business and help create an action plan
  • Increase focus on the business’ most important aspects
  • Show your commitment to banks, investors, colleagues and employees
  • Illuminate potential problems at an early stage
  • Set targets and evaluate your success
  • Help you attract better-qualified staff

Remember, a business plan is something you should keep reviewing and updating. Allowing it to collect dust at the bottom of a cabinet is be a big no-no. 

A few rules of thumb

Before you begin writing your business plan, there are a few things to keep in mind. Consider the following:

Keep the plan short

  • Focus on the need-to-know stuff
  • Get rid of long-winded information
  • Avoid making spelling mistakes
  • Don’t go overboard on the details. Business plans that are too dense don’t tend to be used.

Include details in the appendix 

In-depth facts and figures should go at the end. For example:

  • Detailed financial forecast and assumptions
  • Market research data that backs up your points
  • The CVs of key personnel (necessary for outside funding)
  • Product literature or technical specifications 

Make the plan as professional as possible

  • Include a cover and contents page, and ensure pages and sections are numbered
  • Begin with an executive summary that details the key points and purpose of your business plan
  • Use charts, graphs and other visuals where you feel it would help

Whoever the audience is, write your business plan as if it’s aimed at an outsider. That means you should include company or product literature in the appendix.

business plan considerations

Things to consider when writing a business plan

Research is essential

You’ll need to know your product, market and objectives inside and out, so be sure you’re spending plenty of time researching, evaluating and thinking about what should go into your plan. Get to know everything you can about your audience and industry; the more of a foundation you can lay out, the more you’ll be able to build on. 

Determine the purpose of the plan

As we’ve mentioned, there are many different things a business plan can be used for. It’s up to you, however, to decide the actual purpose of the document. From here, you’ll know what to tweak, emphasise and accentuate; if you want to attract investors then the plan would look different to that of one designed to provide the business with a road map. 

Create a company profile

Perhaps the best jumping-off point to a business plan is the creation of a company profile. By crafting a solid definition of the products and services you offer, your target market and audience, any resources you have, and what makes your business unique, you can underline what makes you tick whilst also using it to attract customers, investors and talent. Once your company profile is in place, it will make getting started on your plan a lot easier.

business plan what to include

What to include in a business plan

Marketing insights

How will you market yourself to any potential customers or investors? In answering this question, you’ll need to be able to create a profile of your ideal customers, including what they like or dislike. Doing this will help you understand how to position your product or service, as well as how to price what you’re offering. Also, important to note is how your customer base is likely to change over time – whether that’s an increase or decrease.

Combine both descriptions and analysis when completing this aspect of your plan, and be sure to include a SWOT analysis (more on this later) of each area. This will show the reader that you’re realistic about prospects. It’s important to note who your competitors are too; ignoring them suggests to the reader that you’re overlooking a major problem. 

In writing up this section, you'll want to identify marketing objectives, such as:

  • Introducing new products
  • Extending or regaining market for existing products
  • Entering new territories for the company
  • Boosting sales in a particular product, market or price range
  • Cross-selling one product with another
  • Entering into long-term contracts with desirable clients
  • Raising prices without cutting into sales figures
  • Refining a product
  • Creating a content marketing strategy
  • Enhancing manufacturing and/or product delivery

Of course, these objectives will all have varying costs associated with them. Therefore, they'll need to have a section where budget is allocated for each planned activity; consider creating separate budgets for internal hours (staff time) and external costs for out-of-pocket expenses.

Finance data

The finance section should include all the financial data for your business. If you’ve started trading, then be sure to mention any of the previous years’ accounts as well as details of any outstanding loans or assets. Additionally, current management accounts, cash flow forecasts, and a breakeven analysis should be highlighted too.

Any financial projections you make should be realistic and outlined with different scenarios for dates, costs and cashflow for both the long and short term. It may be tempting to massage or dress up the figures, but if you’re looking for investment, then any potential investors are likely to see through it. Likewise, be realistic about your costs; spreading an equal amount of your marketing budget across the whole year is an unlikely-looking scenario.

Management information

This section should make note of the background and experience of all the key members of the management team. Attach CVs for each individual and outline the strengths and weaknesses of the team as a whole. If you are missing any skills within your management team, then equity investment can help out in this regard. Any investors in your business will have a wide network of contacts that may be able to join the board in non-executive capacities.

writing an executive summary

Executive summary

With the above elements now all fully formed, you're in a better position to write the first thing that appears in your business plan: the executive summary. Part of every big business decision that a company has to make, the executive summary acts as the initial point of contact with your audience, whether that may be customers, investors or other members of staff.

In this summary, you'll state the company's mission statement, i.e. a few sentences that truly sum up what the business does for its clients, your aims for the company, and what makes you stand out amongst your competitors. Combining your business' current situation with its future aspirations, it should be a powerful, concise statement that's persuasive, convincing and realistic.

In no more than 1,000 words, the summary should capture the audience's attention in a way that gives them a feel for the business. Think of it as an elevator pitch; it needs to be punchy from the first word to the final full stop.

It's a good idea to front-load the summary with your business' most impressive credentials. Make mention of any companies you've worked with or other investors who are already on board. You might think these should be saved until the end, a judicious ace in the hole that's going to seal the deal, but the reader may not even make it that far.

The problem and the solutions you provide should be clearly stated. Use common terms to make this section as transparent as possible. Outlining your competitive advantage also comes in useful here; if you have any patents or intellectual property, then mentioning them upfront can be valuable, as can a summation of the business model.

business plan tips

The dos and don'ts of executive summaries: 

Dos

  • Use simple, straightforward sentences that are easy to understand. Longer, compound sentences cloud the message and confuse the reader.
  • Show what you can do rather than what others cannot do. Be positive when stating your advantages.
  • Proofread it for any mistakes, and don't be afraid to cut unnecessary parts.

Don’ts

  • Be tempted to use clichéd phrases. They might sound impressive, but they don't provide substance. If it's an investor reading it, they'll have heard them all before.
  • Use overly sweeping statements. You want to be as precise as possible in your focus, so show you can make a big difference in a small market as opposed to the other way around.
  • Give in to any opportunity to misrepresent yourself. Yes, you need to be convincing, but that doesn't mean you should lie in your attempts to do so.

SWOT analysis

Carrying out a SWOT analysis helps you to understand the business and the key external factors that you need to deal with. In your business plan, include a one-page analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with your company, for example:

  • Strengths: Brand name, product quality, management
  • Weaknesses: Lack of finance, over-reliance on select customers
  • Opportunities: Increases in demand, competitors going out of business
  • Threats: A new competitor, a downturn in the economy

In the context of business, you can use this to carve out a niche for yourself, identifying undiscovered advantages. Through understanding your weaknesses, you're better placed to manage and eliminate threats that could otherwise catch you off guard. This then provides you with the chance to stand out from your competitors.

Business plan next steps

 Now you have your business plan in place, there are a few directions you can take to help progress your business:

1. Distribute the business plan

All stakeholders and key members of the team should receive a copy of the business plan, ensuring everyone is aware of the set-in-stone business targets. Additionally, you may want to highlight to individuals the parts which may be of interest to them.

2. Set KPIs

If you’re dedicated to ensuring you meet all the targets set in your business plan, it’s important to implement a series of KPIs. These small steps could help you stay on track and ensure your business plan is a success.  

business plan kpis

3. Schedule a monthly review

Make sure you’re measuring your performance against what is stated in your business plan by holding monthly reviews of your progress. If you’re falling behind your plan, you may need to make some changes.

4. Build a dashboard

If you have a series of targets in place, you’ll need a place for the whole team to record their progress. Building a shared comms dashboard – using a tool like Basecamp or Trello – where all members of the team can input their progress can help keep everyone on track.  

5. Connect with a consultant

If you are unsure of how to achieve any part of your business plan, contacting dedicated consultants could be the suitable next step. Securing expertise could be the difference between success and failure.  

Gazprom Energy is a leading and award-winning business energy supplier, helping thousands of small businesses manage their gas and electricity contracts. To find out more about what we can offer your business, visit the homepage or call us today on 0161 837 3395.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.


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