Business plans appear in many different formats, depending on the audience for the plan and complexity of the business. However, most business plans address the following five topic areas in one form or another.
- Business summary — Describes the organization, business venture or product (service), summarizing its purpose, management, operations, marketing and finances.
- Market opportunity — Concisely describes what unmet need it will (or does) fill, presents evidence that this need is genuine, and that the beneficiaries (or a third party) will pay for the costs to meet this need. Describes credible market research on target customers (including perceived benefits and willingness to pay), competitors and pricing.
- People — Arguably the most important part of the plan, it describes who will be responsible for developing, marketing and operating this venture, and why their backgrounds and skills make them the right people to make this successful. Ideally, each person in the management team (and key program and technical folks) are indicated by NAME.
- Implementation — This is the how-to section of the plan, where the action steps are clearly described, usually in four areas: start-up, marketing, operations and financial. Marketing builds on market research presented, e.g., in a Market Opportunity section of the plan, including your competitive niche (how you will be better than your competitors in ways that matter to your target customers). Financial plan includes costs to launch, operate, market and finance the business, along with conservative estimates of revenue, typically for three years; a break-even analysis is often included in this section.
- Contingencies — This section outlines the most likely things that could go wrong with implementing this plan, and how management is prepared to respond to those problems if they emerge.
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For more resources, see our Library topic Business Planning.