Whether you need a quick launch overview or a detailed plan for investors, any business plan should cover the six key elements outlined in our free template and explained below. The main difference between starting a small business and starting an investor-funded business is the market research and the operational and financial details needed to support the concept.
1. Your mission or vision
Start by declaring a “dream statement” for your business. You can call it your executive summary, your vision statement, or your mission. Whatever its name, the first part of your business plan summarizes your idea by answering five questions. Keep it short, like an elevator pitch. You will expand on these answers in the following sections of the simple business plan template.
- What does your business do? Do you sell products, services, information or a combination?
- Where does it take place ? Will you be doing business online, in-store, via mobile, or in a specific location or environment?
- Who benefits from your business? Who is your target market and ideal client for your concept?
- Why would potential customers care? What would get your ideal customers to notice your business?
- How do your products and/or services outperform the competition? What would make your ideal customers choose you over a competitor?
These answers come easily if you have a solid concept for your business, but don’t worry if you get stuck. Use the rest of your plan template to brainstorm ideas and tactics. You will quickly find these answers and possibly new directions as you explore your ideas and options.
2. Offer and value proposition
This is where you detail your offering, such as selling products, providing services, or both, and why anyone would care. This is the value proposition. Specifically, you will develop your responses to the first and fourth points of your mission/vision.
As you complete this section, you may find that exploring value propositions reveals marketable business opportunities that you had not yet considered. So spend some time thinking about the possibilities in this section.
For example, an artisan baker startup specializing in gluten-free or keto-friendly products could be a value proposition that appeals deeply to certain audiences. Plus, you can expand on that value proposition by offering wedding cakes and other special occasions that incorporate gluten-free, keto-friendly, and traditional cake elements that all guests can enjoy.
3. Audience and ideal client
This is where you explore the third point, which will benefit your business. Identifying your ideal customer and exploring a wider audience for your products or services is key to defining your sales and marketing strategies, and it also helps refine what you offer.
There are many ways to research potential audiences, but a shortcut is to simply identify a problem people have that your product or service can solve. If you start from the position of being a problem solver, it’s easy to define your audience and outline the wants and needs of your ideal customer for marketing efforts.
Using the example of starting a cottage baker, one problem people might have is finding freshly baked gluten-free or keto-friendly sweets. Examining these people’s wants and needs could reveal a target audience that is health conscious or perhaps struggling with health issues and willing to spend more on hard-to-find items.
However, having a customer base that can support your business is essential. You may be too specialized. For example, our bakery startup can appeal to a wider audience and increase revenue by offering a wider selection of traditional baked goods alongside its gluten-free and keto-focused specialties.
4. Revenue streams, sales channels and marketing
Thanks to our Internet-based economy, startups have many revenue opportunities and can connect with target audiences through different channels. Revenue streams and sales channels also serve as marketing vehicles, so you can cover all three in this section.
Income streams are the many ways you can earn money in your business. In your plan template, outline how you’ll make money at launch, and include ideas for future expansion. The income possibilities might surprise you.
For example, our artisan baker startup might consider these revenue streams:
- Product sales: Online stores, pop-ups, wholesalers and (future) in-store sales
- Affiliate income: Monetize blogs and social media posts with affiliate links
- Advertising revenue: Reserve space on the website for advertising
- e-book sales: (future) Publish recipe e-books targeting gluten-free and keto-friendly dessert niches
- Video income: (future) Monetize a YouTube channel featuring explainer videos for gluten-free and keto-friendly dessert niches
- Webinars and online courses: (future) monetizing coaching style webinars and online courses covering specialist cooking tips and techniques
- Members Only Content: (future) Monetize a members-only section of the website for specialized content to complement webinars and online courses
- Franchise: (future) Monetize a specialty artisan bakery concept and sell to franchise entrepreneurs
Sales channels put your revenue streams into action. This section also answers the question “Where will this happen” in the second bullet point of your vision.
Product sales channels for our artisan bakery example might include:
- Mobile point of sale (POS): A mobile platform such as Shopify or Square POS to manage in-person sales at local farmers markets, fairs and festivals
- E-commerce platform: An online store such as Shopify, Square or WooCommerce for online retail sales and wholesale orders
- Social media channels: Buyable posts and pins on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for online sales via social networks
- Physical location: For in-store sales, once the business has reached a point where it can support a physical location
Channels that support other revenue streams may include:
- Affiliate income: Blog section on the e-commerce site and affiliate partner accounts
- Advertising revenue: Reserved advertising space on the e-commerce site
- e-book sales: Amazon eBook Sales through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing
- Video income: YouTube channel with advertising monetization
- Webinars and online courses: Online course and webinar platforms that support member accounts, recordings and playback
- Members Only Content: Password protected website content using membership apps like MemberPress
Today, the line between marketing and sales channels is blurred. Social media, e-books, websites, blogs, and videos serve as both marketing tools and income opportunities. Since most are free and those with advertising options are extremely inexpensive, these are ideal marketing outlets for lean startups.
However, many businesses still find value in traditional advertising like local radio, television, direct mail, newspapers and magazines. You can include these advertising costs in your simple business plan template to help you develop a marketing plan and budget.
5. Structure, suppliers and operations
This section of your simple business plan template explores how to structure and operate your business. Details include the type of business organization your startup will adopt, roles and responsibilities, vendor logistics, and day-to-day operations. Also include in this section any certifications or permits needed to start your business.
Our cottage baker example could use a structure and starter plan like this:
- Company structure: Sole proprietorship with a “doing business as” (DBA).
- Permits and certifications: County-issued food handling license and state cottage food certification for home food production. Option, check in certified commercial kitchen rentals.
- Roles and responsibilities: Solopreneur, all roles and responsibilities with the owner.
- Supply Chain: Bulk ingredients and food packaging through Sam’s Club, Costco, Amazon Prime with annual membership fees. Uline for shipping supplies; no membership required.
- Daily operations: Source ingredients and bake three days a week to fulfill local and online orders. Set aside time for specialty sales, wholesale partner orders and market events as needed. Ship online orders every other day. Update the website and create marketing and affiliate blog posts on non-shipping days.
6. Financial forecasts
Your final task is to list business start-up forecasts, ongoing costs, and profit projections in your simple business plan template. With free business tools like Square and free social media marketing, lean startups can get started with little upfront cost. In many cases, the cost of goods, shipping and packaging, business permits, and business card printing are your only personal expenses.
Lean start-up costs predicted by our cottage baker could include:
Gross profit projections
This helps you determine the retail prices and sales volume needed to run your business and hopefully earn an income for yourself. Use the product search to locate target retail prices for your goods, then subtract your cost of goods, such as hourly rate, raw materials, and vendor costs. The total amount is your gross profit per item or service.
Here are some examples of projected gross profits for our cottage baker:
Putting careful thought and detail into a business plan is always beneficial, but don’t get so bogged down in planning that you never hit the start button to launch your business. Also remember that business plans are not set in stone. Markets, audiences and technologies change, as do your goals and the means to achieve them. Think of your business plan as a living document and review it regularly, expand it, and restructure it based on market opportunities and business growth demand.