How to write a business plan – the structure of the plan

Business Plan StructureLast week I looked at the preparation needed to write your business plan, now we are laying out the structure of the plan.

Not all of the following will be needed for every plan and you must decide what to include based on the use that the business plan will be put to. For instance Business Angels will want to see a section on the Management Team, however if the plan is only for you to run the company you could easily leave that section out.

Main sections of a Business Plan:

1. 0 Executive Summary

Normally 2 to 3 pages that clearly states what your business does and summarises the main elements of the plan. If you are looking for investment, the Executive Summary is the first information that Business Angels or banks will want to see. They need to quickly understand your business and its attractiveness before they will ask see the main plan.

Although it comes first in the structure, you will write it last. You can’t summarise what you haven’t yet written.

In the Executive Summary you should state what your companies Objectives or Goals are and even your business’s Mission. Mission Statements are not just the remit of large corporations; they also give direction to fast growing businesses.

Remember the above Exec Summary is done last. First you layout the main Business Plan sections as below.

2.0 Company Summary

Describe where your business is located, is it a start-up or how long it has existed, what services or products does it supply, and to what group of people.

Include in this section who owns the company and the history of the company.

3.0 Products / Services

This is the section most people find the easiest. Everyone enjoys talking about their own products. However apart from describing your products & services do include these essentials:

- What makes your offering different and more attractive than the competition

- Where do you source your raw materials, or service providers from

- How you distribute your product/service What about after sales support

- What about after sales support

4.0 Market Analysis Summary

You will already have some knowledge of your market, but now quantify it. Do some book/web research and get real numbers and statistics. Being able to refer back t0 the sources of your information is vital when talking to Investors, it gives credibility.

Even if not looking for investment, you must base your plan on actual information, not a personal/general impression that may in reality be far from accurate.

Do your own market research, ask people who you believe to be your target customers for information and if they would buy your product. Don’t just ask friends and family.

4.1 Market Segmentation

A key part of your marketing is to sub-divide your potential customers into groups that have some similarity. You haven’t got the resources or funds to market to everyone, so create target groups and you will then be able to decide how best to reach them.

4.2 Target Market Segment Strategy

Look at how understanding the different needs and attitudes of your target demographics may be translated into a strategy.

By having segmented your market, the messages that you give to each of these groups can be very different and delivered in a way that attracts that group of people.

You may also decide to make differing versions of your offering for different segments of your market.

4.3 Industry Analysis

Describe the industry in general and it’s size. Specifically talk about the competition in the industry and how you compare. Describe buying patterns; are sales seasonal for instance, do they depend on other factors, how long is the decision process to buy.

Is there price sensitivity, or is quality and service the most important?

5.0 Strategy and Implementation

5.1 SWOT Analysis

Strength – Weakness – Opportunities – Threats analysis. You may not want to actually include this here. It may be better in a appendix, or kept separate simply as part of the background to understanding your business.

5.2 Competitive Edge

These sections are about implementation, so think about how you will put in place strategies and activity to take advantage of the differences that your products/services have.

5.3 Marketing Strategy

Specify your strategy for reaching your target market and the main actions needed to carry out these strategies. You should include PR, Direct Marketing, advertising, sales calls, customer referrals, special deals/promotions, endorsements, partnerships, sponsorships etc.

Think about your resources, can you afford to advertise a bit, do you have someone who could make sales calls, try getting free PR if possible

You have a great product/service, but no one will buy it unless they know about it. See our resource on making a Marketing Plan and then include the main elements in this business plan.

5.4 Sales Strategy

Will you sell on-line, have your own sales force, franchise or not, will you have distributors, a store, a warehouse? A restaurant, bar or cafe needs premises to sell from. Where and what location, how about “foot-fall” for high street premises.

Will you sell in bulk, or minimum orders, discounts, pricing and loss-leaders, all the nitty-gritty of how sales will be made has to be thought out.

5.4.1 Sales Forecast

The finance section of most business plans includes 3 years of forecast. The first year by month and the next 2 years as separate yearly totals. Some industries may have longer forecast needs, but not normally.

People find this section hard to do, but you have to give it your best estimate. Note down the assumptions that you made in coming to that estimate, so you can justify it. When operating you can compare actuals to forecast and look back and see if any assumptions needs changing.

Sometimes you can get an idea of your likely sales by looking at your competitors, or competing products & services.

6.0 Management Summary

If the plan is only for internal use, you will not need a full biography of the management team of the business, which you will certainly need for Investment purposes. Even if it is a one person start-up, you will need to say something about your background that makes Investors believe that you are capable of being successful with their funds.

There’s no need for a full CV in this section, just a summary, picking out relevant details.

In this section also you can say how the personnel levels will grow over time and what skills or positions will be expanded.

7.0 Financial Plan

As mentioned with the sales forecast, the financials are normally the first year by month and then the next 2 years as a yearly total.

If you have the sales forecast ready, all you need then as preparation are the costs of the business. Typically these are split between fixed costs and variable costs. The putting together of the financial side of the business can be done on a spreadsheet for small businesses but larger concerns will need to use an accountant to translate the forecast and costs into full financials that include a balance sheet, cash flow and Profit & Loss accounts.

Alternatively, there is software around that will guide you through putting all the sections of a plan together and also produce the full financial section. Try this business plan software,  we’ve looked at many and this turned out best in our review.

Finance sections to include:

- Important Assumptions

- Break-even Analysis

- Projected Cash Flow

- Sales Forecast

- Projected Profit and Loss

- Projected Balance Sheet

It’s important not to get stuck in any one section of the plan. Do your best and move on, keep momentum going. If possible bounce ideas around with your team, a business partner, or a friend. If you need a Business Partner, Mentor or Investment don’t forget to join Company Partners.


2 thoughts on “How to write a business plan – the structure of the plan

  1. Wendy

    This is an excellent initiative. Although it is true that many small entrepreneurs such as the corner shop or TV repairman may not start their business with a written plan, the ones on this website who have approached me definitely should.

    I was surprised by the number of them who made long sweeping statements of guaranteed ROI for investments above £20k, but each time I asked for financial statements and contracts, I’ve never heard back from them again. Any serious entrepreneurs with sound acumen and seeking capital injection or equity share should definitely have a solid value proposition on paper.

  2. Nikolai

    The summary is very good and comprehensive. From my point of view, there are just a couple of point within the financial section, that I would add and which shall be important to a potential investor:
    - What could an Exit scenario look like? (potential buyers, Valuation, etc.)
    - What if things don’t go as it was planned? (Sensitivity analysis in particular with regards to working capital)
    - How quickly does the Investor get the money back? 

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