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Your business plan often is the first impression potential investors, partners or lenders get of you and your professionalism. Not only should the contents of your plan be top-notch, but how you present the information also should impress your different audiences. Using standard business plan formatting techniques, you can create a document that looks professional and sends the message you’re serious about presenting your business idea.
The Basic Format
There is no universally accepted business plan format, but many follow the same format used for school papers or business reports. Your document should contain a cover page, table of contents, executive summary, the informational sections listed in your outline, a summary and an appendix.
The Different Sections
Your cover page should include a brief title describing what the document is and your contact information. Your table of contents should make it easy for readers to find your different sections, which can include topics recommended by the U.S Small Business Administration. These topics include an executive summary followed by your product or concept description, a market analysis, marketing plans, financial information, backgrounds and bios of key personnel, and a summary with your needs from a lender, partner or investor. Your appendix should include supporting documents that, if included in one of your sections, would make it long and tedious. Your section titles might include:
- Executive Summary
- Business/Product Overview
- Market Analysis
- Key Personnel
To break your document into more easy-to-read content blocks, format your document with sub-headings. In the market analysis section, for example, you might include: target audience, competition, barriers to entry, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. In your marketing section, you might include: unique selling benefit, pricing, distribution, branding and marketing communications. In the marketing communications section, further divide your content using subheads such as: advertising, public relations, promotions and social media.
Typography & Graphics
Don’t try to “jazz up” your document with different fonts, colors and graphics. Pick one typeface, such as Arial, Helvetica, Geneva, Garamond, Times or Times Roman. Add different fonts of the typeface, such as bold face or italics, to highlight important concepts. Use pictures, illustrations or other graphics only when they are necessary to make a point, such as when the reader would have trouble visualizing what you’re saying without help. AVOID USING ALL CAPS, WHICH CAN BE DIFFICULT TO READ. Instead, use bold face, italics or underlining for sub-headings. Don’t put long blocks of text in italics, which also can make it more difficult to read.
Borders & Line Spacing
Experiment with borders and line spacing in your word processing document. Common borders are .75 inches to 1 inch from the sides of the page, with more room at the bottom to accommodate numbering. Start your page numbers where they make sense, based on your document. For example, your executive summary might be page one. If you are having trouble starting the page numbers on a page other than the cover, create your cover page and contents page in one document, then start the page you want to designate as page one as the first page of a new document. Print several pages of your document using single spacing and double spacing to see which you feel offers the best readability. Greater line spacing can help make a short document look longer.
Review Sample Templates
Typing “business plan templates” or “business plan examples” into a search engine will produce results that let you examine different business plan formatting and layout. You don’t have to follow one completely -- consider choosing different elements from different plans to format your document.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.