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How to Start a Business: The Business Plan

Every day, people dream of quitting their jobs and striking out on their own. Their reasons vary from job dissatisfaction and boredom to having a great idea and wanting the challenge and chance to run with it. We’ve all heard the tale of a few guys starting out in their garage; if not for the entrepreneurial spirit, I might not be typing this on Microsoft Word right now.

Every business is different and even businesses with the same general services or products differ in processes and execution. But every business idea, big or small, run out of a store front or as a home business success, needs the same thing first and foremost: a business plan.

Business Plans 101

Business plans can be simple and informal or very detailed with full-color graphs and charts. All business plans follow a similar structure and serve the same basic function: they describe the business idea, state the business’s goals and lay out a road map towards achieving those goals.

Two types of plans are discussed below: the mini or simple business plan and a working plan.

Mini-plan. Mini-plans are usually 10 pages or less and serve as a proof-of-concept piece to test a business concept’s validity. One Night use a mini-plan to test possible interest in the idea. Mini-plans are informal though they do contain financial data, such as balance sheets and cash flows. While simple by design, mini-plans address important matters like marketing plans and financial or start-up funding needs.

Working plan. A working plan is more detailed than a mini-plan and can be 15-20 pages long. Working plans can still be informal, but contain all the details necessary to serve as an operations guide for the business concept. If a working plan is not intended to attract partners or investors, it might leave out some of the components that aren’t as important for day to day operations like credentials of the owners or key management positions.

Looks aren’t terribly important for either a mini or working plan until it’s time to present them to a lender. A presentation plan is simply a working plan with information and graphics added to give it a polished appearance worthy to be shown off to investors.

These days, many plans are presented electronically rather than in hard copy. Some plans are even made into a literal presentation or slide show.

Business Plan Structure

Even a simple business plan will contain key components like those below.

Executive Summary. The executive summary is the business plan in a nutshell, from concept to funding needs, to organization to financial highlights. Summaries should be short and very clear since it is the first thing any investor will read.

Company Description. This is just what it sounds like, spelled out in detail sufficient to explain the entire business concept, organization (partnership, sole proprietorship, LLC, etc.) and general start up plans.

Marketing Analysis. This important section will show that the business owner understands the market for his or her idea by detailing who their customer is, where they are, how the business plans to reach them, and who the competition is.

Marketing Plan/Strategy. This section builds on the last by describing a specific marketing and sales strategy for the business.

Management. This section provides an overview of the management personnel, usually including pertinent background, history and achievements. For some businesses, this might only be one person.

Financial Data. This is where all the “number crunching” goes. Cash flows, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and break-even analysis – all of those things go here.


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