The Ultimate Guide to Business Plans

First Impressions

“Early impressions are hard to eradicate from the mind. When once wool has been dyed purple, who can restore it to its previous whiteness?”

― Saint Jerome

Despite the fact that the opening section of your business plan is the last thing you’ll work on, it is the first thing anyone looking at your business plan will see. Which is why it’s important to keep these handy pointers in mind when you do get around to working on it. Let’s start with some general guidelines:

  • Keep it short and to the point, that means making it no longer than 15-20 pages. Your appendix can house all of the other documents you deem essential.

  • Keep the tone, style, and voice consistent. This is best managed by having a single person write the plan.

  • Tailor your business plan to your audience. This means keeping in mind that what’s important to a VC may not be on the same list of priorities as a small business loan manager at your local bank. It also means being flexible with the the layout and knowing which sections to prioritize.

What You'll Need to Include

Here are the sections with which your business plans should kick things off with, that includes having a:

  • Cover Letter

  • Title Page

  • Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary

Cover Letter

The cover letter serves the same purpose that it does when you submit one along with a resume as a job candidate. Actually you can think of the entire process of courting a prospective investor, partner, or initial employees akin to that of job hunting, it has to make sense for both parties.

Here are the skeleton elements that you need to make sure to include in this section:

  • Address of intended recipient

  • Date

  • Your Address

  • Dear ______ (Make sure to have a name!)

  • Body paragraphs that highlight very obvious facts (ex. that you’re submitting a business plan for your business, which you can describe in a sentence, and what the prospective reader can look forward to reading about in the following pages)

  • Express your eagerness in hearing back from them and a number where you can be reached

  • Thank them

  • Sign off

Title Page

You definitely don’t want to overdo it on this one. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. I would recommend keeping this as minimalist as possible, which means no bright neon or contrasting colors or any unnecessary fancy borders. Do however include the following:

  • Logo

  • Business Name

  • Founder’s Name (optional)

  • The words “Business Plan”

  • An image of the product (optional)

  • Date

Table of Contents

This page should give anyone skimming through your business plan a clear roadmap of which section falls where. The benefits being that depending on who’s reading the plan, some people might go through everything chronologically and others will have different priority sections they’ll want to jump straight through to and skip others.

This means having every section, and potentially subsection, that could be of interest on the table of contents. You also don’t need to spend a lot of time thinking about the most sophisticated way to number your topics. Simply using the numbers 1,2,3 and so on for main sections and 1A, 2A, 3A for subsections works just fine. We all have our preferences though, so feel free to go with yours.  

Executive Summary

A good executive summary is the holy grail of good business plan writing. Even though it comes after you’ve written and thought through every other facet of your business, it is arguably the most important part of the puzzle. 

Its purpose is suggested in its name, giving time-crunched executives (or your rich uncle) the high-level overview of your business that will either persuade them to continue reading further or toss your plan in the trash can without a second thought. Secondly, it’s a summary, which means though you’ll only be highlighting the main facets of what you’ve uncovered over the course of writing your plan.

Admittedly, it is a lot of pressure for a one page document, but it’s there so you’ll have to reserve some time at the end to crafting it to your utmost ability. Here’s what your executive summary should include:

  • Business Concept (What you do)

  • Business Goals and Vision (What you want to do)

  • Product Description and Differentiation (What you sell and why it’s different)

  • Target Market (Who do you sell to)

  • Marketing Plan (How you plan on reaching your customers)

  • Current Financial State (What you currently make in revenue)

  • Projected Financial State (What you foresee making in revenue)

  • The Ask (How much money you’re asking for)

  • The Team (Who you are and why it matters)

Next
Chapter

Ready to put what you've learned into action?

Build an online store with Shopify Try it Free