We have broken the business planning process into key sections or modules. These modules consist of a narrative and several financial spreadsheets that make a complete professional business plan. The modules contain questions that should be address in each section of the business plan. We have included two template styles under templates that you can input your information in as you work through each module. You do not need to complete the modules in any set order. The Executive Summary should be done last. Skip any questions that do not apply to your type of business. When you are through writing your first draft, you will have a collection of small essays on the various topics of the business plan. Then you will want to edit them into a smooth flowing narrative. The financial spreadsheets are in Microsoft Excel format and we recommend entering information into these sheets after you have completed the Market Analysis section and drafted the Marketing Strategy.
The real value of doing a business plan is not having the finished product in hand; rather, the value lies in the process of research and thinking about your business in a systematic way. The act of planning helps you to think things through thoroughly, study and research when you are not sure of the facts, and look at your ideas critically. It takes time now, but avoids costly, perhaps disastrous, mistakes later.
This business plan guide is a generic model suitable for all types of businesses. However, you should modify it to suit your particular circumstances. Before you begin, review the section entitled Refining the Plan. It suggests emphasizing certain areas depending upon your type of business (manufacturing, retail, service, etc.). It also has tips for fine-tuning your plan to make an effective presentation to investors or bankers. If this is why you are writing your plan, then pay particular attention to your writing style. You will be judged by the quality and appearance of your work as well as your ideas.
It typically takes several weeks to complete a good plan. Most of that time is spent in research and re-thinking your ideas and assumptions. But then, that is the value of the process. So make time to do each module properly. Those who do, never regret the effort. And finally, be sure to keep detailed notes on your sources of information and the assumptions underlying your financial data.