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Bottom Line Up Front

  • A well-constructed business plan is often essential for small businesses, especially if you’re looking for financing.
  • Your business plan should outline your mission and business concept, your target market, how you plan to attract customers and more.
  • Agencies like the U.S. Small Business Administration offer resources that can help as you develop your business plan.

Whether you’re starting a new business or growing an existing one, a well-constructed business plan can help you define your products and services, determine your target market, scope out the competition and create a structure for success. And, if you’re looking for financing, it’s usually essential—lenders will analyze your business plan to help determine if you’re a good credit risk.

What’s Included in a Business Plan?

The format and size of each business plan is unique, but here’s a general template you can follow:

  1. Executive summary: This usually appears at the beginning of your business plan and acts as a quick overview of it. You may find it easier to write the executive summary last.
  2. Mission and values statements: As part of your executive summary, include 1 or 2 sentences summarizing the “what,” “how” and “why” of your business. For example, Mayo Clinic Health System’s mission is to “inspire hope, and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care to every patient through integrated clinical practice, education and research.” This mission is rooted in Mayo Clinic’s belief that “the needs of the patient come first.”
  3. Business concept: Another part of the executive summary, this should be a description of your products and services, facilities (home or commercial office, factory, restaurant, retail shop, etc.) and day-to-day operations.
  4. Management team: Roles and brief biographies of you and anyone else involved in management of the business. Focus on the experience and expertise that will help move your business forward, especially if you’re looking for financing.
  5. Market analysis: Who is your target market? How large is the market now, and what are the opportunities going forward? How will your business differentiate itself from the competition?
  6. Financial analysis: Provide an overview of your business’ financial status now and the outlook for the future. You’re expected to include 3 financial statements here: an income statement, cash flow statement and balance sheet. You should also include 3 to 5 years of business financial projections (income and expenses).
  7. Marketing and sales: Detail how you’ll position and market your business in order to bring in and keep customers. You can describe your use of traditional advertising (print, TV, radio, direct mail) and/or online marketing (website, social media, search engine optimization).
  8. Why you'll succeed: A positive—but realistic—assessment of why your venture will be successful. Include your passion for the business, the need or niche market you'll fill, and the demographics of your target market.
  9. Appendix: Here, you can include any supporting information or graphics that help establish your plan’s credibility. Think charts, graphs, spreadsheets and photographs of products. You may also include proof of patent applications and research and development activities.

It takes time to put this information together, but it can prove invaluable as you move forward with your business and pursue financing.

Getting Help With Your Business Plan

You don’t need to write your business plan alone. You can find help online at the U.S. Small Business Administration and any of its offices throughout the country. In addition, SCORE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting small businesses, offers free advice and mentoring, along with initiatives specifically for military veterans.

If you’re looking for tools and resources for your business, Navy Federal Credit Union offers a wealth of resources for business owners. Get valuable tips and insights that you can use to help your business succeed.

This article is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.