I won’t lie to y’all—business plans can be nightmare-inducing. College me actually lost sleep over our business plan project, which spanned an entire semester. (I shudder at the memory.)
Thing is, once I got it done, said business plan project turned out to be a mountain I’d made out of a mole hill. There were a lot of things I did that turned out to be completely unnecessary, like the 10-line mission statement and incredibly detailed, itemized list of charities I would donate to.
Don’t write a 10-line mission statement or itemize your list of charities. Save yourself the hassle because, really, it’s not necessary.
Let’s talk about what is.
Call it a summary, an overview, a snapshot, whatever you want. The important thing here is getting down the essential details of your business. What’s your business model? Structure (sole proprietor, LLC, etc.)? Mission? Location? How will you be doing business? What problem are you solving for your customers?
While I suggest answering all these questions and including them at the beginning of your business plan no matter how you’ll be using your business plan, it’s especially important to start off with these if you’ll be approaching investors. These details are integral. They’re the first impression of your business, and you don’t get a second chance at a first impression.
Additional items that belong here but may not be necessary depending on who’s seeing your business plan: vision statement, core values, business description (like your elevator pitch), executive team (e.g. all those people involved in running your business if it’s more than just you), and staff (e.g. all those people you pay to work for you, whether they’re employees, freelancers, contractors, etc.).
2: Products & Services
This is the first part where tables become your best friend.
Rather than listing out every single one of your products and/or services in as much detail as you can (ahem…), CATEGORIZE. Seriously. For example, if you’re selling a dozen different brands of breeches, call it “Breeches” on your table, list the brands you sell & a brief description of the kinds of breeches you sell, and finish with a price range.
For example, here's a snippet of what my services section for my blog looks like:
(P.S. If any of those have piqued your interest, you can read more about what services I offer here. [Spoiler alert: they're all super affordable.])
After you’ve listed an overview of your products and/or services, briefly discuss your product source, supply chain, costs of manufacturing if you make your own products, and packing & shipping costs if you ship. You can also include any costs directly related to the development of your products and/or services here.
Yes, the dreaded financial portion. It’s necessary, no matter what your plans for your business plan are. Even if you just put together a rough estimate of your break-even costs, you need to know what you’ve got going out so you can work on bringing in even more.
This topic is quite a bit meatier than I can cover in this blog post, though, so if you need a little more guidance, I suggest you check out my mini course, Don't Fear "The Numbers". In it, I go over the exact steps I took while writing my own business plan. The course includes a workbook, bonus lesson on starting & planning a savings account for your business, and several other additions. Additionally, because this is the flagship launch of this course, it's available for the lowest price it'll ever be.
If you're ready to dig in, or if you're totally terrified but you know you need to get this part done anyway, click the button below to sign up.
4: Target Market
In this section, you’ll lay out who exactly you’re marketing to. Focus on demographics, market trends, behavior & characteristics, direct competition (companies that sell similar products/services as yours), indirect competition (companies who sell different products/services but target the same market), and anything else that helps you hone in on your ideal consumer.
Additionally, include information on your industry that could influence the way you run your business, like the general size, notable trends, projected growth, and technological advances. This is also a good place to discuss big-picture things like the economy, projected seasonal changes, etc.
5: Competitive Analysis
This is the part where you look at your competitors critically and perform a SWOT analysis. Look at your own strengths and weaknesses, being brutally honest, then look at opportunities and threats in the market. What are your competitors doing well? Where can you take advantage of their weak spots?
Then, think about your USP – your unique selling point. What is it that sets you apart from your competitors? Do you hold a certain certification no other riding instructors in your area hold? Do you source your products ethically and organically? Zero in on what sets you apart so you can emphasize it.
6: Marketing, Advertising, & PR Plan
You can’t have a successful business if your customers don’t know you exist. In this section, you’ll discuss how you plan on making sure your customers know that you’re out there. Include what types of marketing strategies you’ll take part in, any types you won’t take part in, metrics to monitor, what social media outlets you’ll focus on, strategies for traditional and online marketing, a PR strategy, and anything else necessary for this section.
It may sound like a lot, but it’s really not. For example, in the marketing, advertising, & PR plan for my blog, here's what I list:
- Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Horsealot as the social media platforms of choice.
- How often I'll post and what kind of content will go on each one
- Primary marketing strategies I want to focus on include sponsoring the various #horsehour chats on Twitter, Twitter cards, Instagram giveaways, and Facebook ads.
- I don't list many traditional offline marketing strategies or a PR strategy because I've moved to an area that isn't as heavily populated by equestrians as where I used to live.
When combined, these six sections are all you really need in your business plan. While you should be detailed, a lengthy business plan isn’t necessary, especially if you’re keeping this to yourself. I suggest no more than 2-3 pages per section with your summary section no more than one page. That should give you all the detail you need without drowning you under business fluff talk.
If you'd like a little more assistance filling out your business plan, I've created a simple, fill-in-the-blank business plan that will help you get started. To download it, just drop your first name and email in the boxes below and it'll be emailed right to you.
Read the rest of the posts in the series:
- Building Your Business Plan: Vision Boards
- Building Your Business Plan: Business Models
- Building Your Business Plan: Business Plan Must-Haves (that's this one!)
- Building Your Business Plan: Business Plan Additions
- Building Your Business Plan: Keeping It Legal