Organized documents are the most effective ones. Business plans will make a better impression on readers if they have a logical flow of information that takes potential partners, lenders or investors where the writer wants them to go. Developing an outline for a business plan before you start writing helps you decide how to best present your information.
Analyze Your Audience
What you want to emphasize in your business plan and how much information you want to provide will depend on your audience. A hands-on partner will want different information than a silent partner wants. A lender who wants a reasonable rate of interest from a secure loan will need more objective information than an investor who’s willing to gamble in exchange for a big payoff. Analyze what the members of your target audience need, and list the information they are likely to want in order of importance to these people.
Use a Standard Format
Don’t try to be creative and invent a structure for your business plan. Business consultants and organizations such as the U.S. Small Business Administration recommend many of the same elements for formatting a business plan. These often include:
- Cover page
- Contents page
- Executive summary
- Informational sections
Decide on Your Sections
Your informational sections depend on the purpose of your business plan. You might be writing one for yourself to help you manage and grow your existing business. You might be writing a persuasive document to get lenders or investors to give you capital. Common sections to include in a business plan outline include the product description, marketplace overview, marketing plan, financial data, management biographies and an appendix. If you’re writing the plan for yourself, you might put the marketplace analysis first, then place the product or service overview, allowing you to see if your product or service fills the needs of the marketplace. If you’re looking for money, you might start with your product overview, as the reader might not be familiar with what you’re selling.
Make your business plan easy to navigate by including subheadings in your outline, with page numbers. For example, under Marketplace Analysis, you might include subheadings such as Target Customer, Competition, Barriers to Entry and Current Trends. Under your Marketing heading, you might include subheadings that deal with topics such as pricing, distribution, advertising, public relations and social media. You can break your financial data into sections that discuss your annual budget, cost to make your product, overhead (or expense to run the company), cash flow projections, startup costs, capital needs and investment payback.
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.