Guide to writing a business plan

Learn the basics to writing a business plan that will go the distance.

A business plan for a startup is like a blueprint for an architect. It offers clarity, benchmarking and the chance to set out a roadmap for the goals and strategies ahead. It also becomes a document that your business can use to apply for grants, attract investors and employees, and form good partnerships, flagging for them the extent to which you have considered such things as your risks and your values.

Because it is a document that you will use to let others know about your business, it’s a good idea to apply the general principles of all good informative writing: keep it clear and concise, avoid jargon, back up any claims with data and research, and remember to tailor it each time you use it according to the audience it is for.

Typically, and broadly speaking, the information you will want to include is:

Executive summary

A half-page or so explaining what your business offers, your financial position and current stage (eg: startup) and any achievements so far. You should also tailor this summary each time you use the plan for a different purpose. So, if you are using it to apply for a grant, indicate here where you need funding and how you intend to use it.

Company description

Here you want to tell the reader what kind of business yours is (partnership, sole trader, etc.), some context of where it sits in the industry, its point of difference, and its background (the history of its creation). Again, keep this concise – no more than a page – but make sure to use data to back up any claims you make. For example: if you note that you are one of only a few businesses to use a particular technology, cite what the majority use and, if you can, any data around this.

Market research/analysis

In no more than a page, convey what you know about who your market is, including such things as the size of the market, its potential growth, indicators of its future and known risks. This section must be deeply researched. Put in the effort to get the data on your industry, and conduct surveys of your target demographic.

A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis

Identifying the weak points of your business is part of good planning. Go through a SWOT analysis in a page or so, and be sure to indicate how you will leverage opportunities and strengths, and ameliorate weaknesses and risks.

Analysis of competitors

Again, no more than one page here, this time showing in-depth research into the strengths and weaknesses of your key competitor/s, and the ways that you might take advantage of these or challenge them. You might want to do this section as a table for clarity.

Execution plan

This section will have a few pages, around one each dedicated to the following:

The people in your team and how their roles and responsibilities are organised (a diagram can be useful here), as well as the skills and attributes they bring to the business.

  • E-commerce and technology: show how you will use these resources and tools to optimise your business, whether in decreasing costs, increasing production or building sales.
  • Core values: what will you be guided by? How will these values impact the way you do business and the choices you make?
  • Strategy: what steps will you take from here to roll out your business?
  • Establishing credibility: how will you build a credible profile? How will you decrease your customers’ risk?

Marketing plan

This section is all about how you plan to distribute, promote and price your product. Keep this to around one to two pages. You should indicate a budget around promotional activities, and show how this breaks down, whether it’s enlisting a PR company, advertising, or putting time into social media campaigns. Distribution, promotion and price should all connect back to what you know about your customer base, and should demonstrate that you have considered its specific consumer behaviours and demographics.

Financial history

You might consult an accountant for this section. It should include business assets, indications of financial compliance, and then a breakdown of the business costs and expenses including startup costs, sources of funding, profit and loss forecasts and cash flow forecasts.

There are loads of resources online offering templates for business plans, too. Try and Business Victoria, for a start.