When starting a business, having a well-thought-out business plan prepared is necessary for success. It serves as the foundation of your business, helps guide your strategy, and prepares you to overcome the obstacles and risks associated with entrepreneurship. In short, a business plan makes you more like to succeed.
However, like everything in business, starting is often the hardest part. What information do you need? How in-depth should each section be? How should the plan be structured?
All good questions that you can answer by following this business plan outline.
What is a business plan outline?
Starting with a business plan outline helps ensure that you’re covering all of the necessary information to complete your plan. A traditional business plan typically includes—an executive summary, an overview of your products and services, thorough market and industry research, a marketing and sales strategy, operational details, financial projections, and an appendix.
Depending on what you intend to do with your plan, you may not need all of this information right away. If you’re going to speak with investors or pursue funding, then yes, you’ll need to include everything from this outline. But, if you’re using your plan to test an idea or help you run your business, you may want to opt for a lean plan. This is a simpler and faster method that is designed to be updated and used day-to-day.
If you’re unsure of which plan is right for you, check out our guide explaining the differences and use cases for each.
What are the 7 essential parts of a business plan?
No matter the type of business plan you create, these are the seven basic sections you should include. Be sure to download your free business plan template so that you can start drafting your own plan as you work through this outline.
1. Executive summary
While it may appear first, it’s best to write your executive summary last. It’s a brief section that highlights the high-level points you’ve made elsewhere in your business plan.
Summarize the problem you are solving for customers, your solution, the target market, the founding team, and financial forecast highlights. Keep things as brief as possible and entice your audience to learn more about your company.
Keep in mind, this is the first impression your plan and business will make. After looking over your executive summary, your target reader is either going to throw your business plan away or keep reading. So make sure you spend the time to get it just right.
2. Product and services
This is really the opportunity section of your business plan, with the products and services being how you plan to take advantage of the opportunity. You’ll need to describe the problem that you solve for your customers and the solution that you are selling.
Lastly, if there are any major competitive products or services already in the market, it may be valuable to mention them here. Detail how you differ, what your strengths and weaknesses are in comparison, and how you’ll differentiate from what is already available. If you have any intellectual property or patents that help strengthen your position list them here as well.
3. Market analysis
You need to know your target market—the types of customers you are looking for—and how it’s changing, and your market analysis summary will help you get clear on it.
Use this business plan component to discuss your customers’ needs, where your customers are, how to reach them and how to deliver your product to them.
You’ll also need to know who your competitors are and how you stack up against them—why are you sure there’s room for you in this market?
4. Marketing and sales
Use this business plan section to outline your marketing plan, your sales plan, and the other logistics involved in actually running your business.
You’ll want to cover your sales channels, broad marketing activities, your pricing strategy, as well as your intended market position. This will likely evolve over time, but it’s best to include anything that clearly details how you will sell and promote your products and services.
5. Organization and management
The company and management section is an overview of who you are.
It should describe the organization of your business, and the key members of the management team. It should also provide any historical background about your business. When your company was founded, who is/are the owner(s), what state your company is registered in and where you do business, and when/if your company was incorporated for example.
Be sure to include summaries of your managers’ backgrounds and experience—these should act like brief resumes—and describe their functions with the company. You should also include any professional gaps you intend to fill, as well as projected milestones for your business.
6. Financial projections and metrics
At the very least this section should include your projected sales forecast, profit and loss, cash flow projections, and balance sheet, along with a brief description of the assumptions you’re making with your projections.
Finally, if you are raising money or taking out loans, you should highlight the money you need to launch the business. This part should also include a use of funds report—basically an overview of how the funding will be used in business operations.
And while it’s not required, it may be wise to briefly mention your exit strategy. This doesn’t need to be overly detailed, just a general idea of how you may eventually want to exit your business.
The end of your business plan should include any additional information to back up specific elements of your plan. More detailed financial statements, resumes for your management team, patent documentation, credit histories, marketing examples, etc. Basically, include anything that can promote your credibility as a business owner.
Business plan outline template
If you’re looking for greater insight into what goes into specific planning sections, check out the following outline. It can help you develop a detailed business plan or provide guidance as to what may be missing in your current plan.
Keep in mind that each business plan will look different depending on numerous factors, including the type of business and what you will be using the plan for. Consider the following outline to be a master version to reference and consider. Just be sure to focus on the plan type and sections that are most beneficial to your business, pitch, or overall strategic planning.
1.0 Executive Summary
A summary of the problem you are solving and an identifiable need in the market you are filling.
A description of the product or service you will provide to solve the problem.
1.3 Target Market
A defined customer base who will most likely purchase the product or service. For info on how to define your target market, check out our guide on the subject.
The current alternatives or substitutes in the market that you and your business will be competing against.
1.5 Financial Summary
Key highlights of your financial plan that covers costs, sales, and profitability.
1.6 Funding Requirements
A brief outline of the amount of money you will need to start your business. Include this if you plan on pitching to investors.
1.7 Milestones and Traction
A roadmap of where you currently are and specific milestones you plan to hit.
2.0 Product and services
2.1 Problem Worth Solving
A thorough description of the problem or pain point you intend to solve for your customer base.
2.2 Our Solution
A thorough description of your proposed product or service that alleviates the problem of your customer base.
2.3 Validation of Problem and Solution
Any data or relative information that supports your solution. If you’ve already run tests that verify your idea, this is the place to include your results.
2.4 Product Overview
A description of your product and/or service that explains what it does, who its for, and how it benefits your customers.
Any information explaining current competitive offerings and how your product differs from them.
2.6 Roadmap/Future Plans
A list of steps taken so far, along with an outline of steps you plan to take in establishing or growing your business.
3.0 Market Analysis
3.1 Market Segmentation
Potential groups of customers separated by specific characteristics.
3.2 Target market segment strategy
Your ideal customer who would most likely benefit from your business.
3.2.1 Market needs
A description of how your target market is not effectively served and how your business fulfills a need.
3.2.2 Market trends
How consumers in your target market tend to act including purchasing habits, financial trends, and any other relevant factors.
3.2.3 Market growth
The perceived potential increase or decrease in the size of your target market.
3.3 Key customers
Your ideal customer archetype who will be the main advocate for your business.
3.4 Future markets
A snapshot of the potential market based on the last few sections and how your business strategy works within it.
A list of potential competitors. Identifying the competition isn’t always obvious and it may take some digging on your part.
3.5.1 Competitors and alternatives
A list of potential indirect competitors that provide products or services that are alternatives to your business.
3.5.2 Competitive advantage
The strategic advantage(s) that makes your target market more likely to choose you over the competition.
4.0 Marketing and Sales
4.1 Marketing plan
An outline of your marketing and advertising strategy including costs, advertising channels, and goals.
4.2 Sales plan
An estimate of the number of sales you anticipate based on market conditions, capacity, pricing strategy, and other factors.
4.3 Location and facilities
Details of your physical business location (if necessary) including location and costs of operation.
An explanation of any new technology that defines your business.
4.5 Equipment and tools
Any required production equipment or tools and the cost associated with purchasing or renting them.
5.0 Organization and management
5.1 Organizational structure
An overview of the structure of your business including roles and responsibilities of specific employees and the flow of information between levels of the organization.
5.2 Management team
A list of potential candidates you anticipate taking on high-level management roles within your company.
5.3 Management team gaps
Any positions or areas of expertise that you currently do not have candidates ready to fill those roles.
5.4 Personnel plan
A list of potential positions that you expect to require in order to run your business effectively.
5.5 Company history and ownership
A summary of your company’s history and how it relates to planning your business.
A detailed roadmap of specific goals and objectives you plan to achieve that will help you manage and steer your business.
5.7 Key metrics
Performance measurements that help you gauge the overall performance and health of your business.
6.0 Financial projections and metrics
Standard financial documentation that showcases the current and projected health of your business.
6.1 Revenue and sales forecast
Expected revenue and sales for the next 1-3 years, broken down into month-by-month increments for at least the first year.
Expected or incurred costs necessary to start and operate your business.
6.3 Projected profit and loss
How much money you will bring in by selling products and/or services and how much profit you will make or lose after accounting for production costs.
6.4 Projected cash flow
Money that is expected to cycle in and out of your business. This can also include your overall cash position and cash runway.
6.5 Projected balance sheet
Expected balances for business assets, liabilities, and equity.
6.6 Personnel plan
Outline of how and who you intend to hire, what compensation will be, and how employees will fit into business operations.
6.7 Use of funds
Explanation of how funds were or will be used. This is typically meant to be shared with investors or lenders.
6.8 Exit strategy
A brief description of how you intend to eventually exit from your business. Acquisition, selling, passing along to a family member/employee, etc.
A repository for any additional information, including charts and graphs, to support your business plan.
How to organize your business plan
There’s no real established order to business plans, aside from keeping the Executive Summary at the top. As long as you have all of the main business plan components, then the order should reflect your goals.
If this is meant solely for your personal use, lay it out as a roadmap with similar sections grouped together for easy reference. If you’re pitching this to potential investors, lead with the stronger sections to emphasize the pitch. Then if you’re unsure of what order makes sense, then just stick to the outline in this article.
Should you include tables and charts in your business plan?
Every business plan should include bar charts and pie charts to illustrate the numbers. It’s a simple way for you, your team, and investors to visualize and digest complex financial information.
Cash flow is the single most important numerical analysis in a business plan, and a standard cash flow statement or table should never be missing. Most standard business plans also include a sales forecast and income statement (also called profit and loss), and a balance sheet.
How long should your business plan be?
There’s no perfect length for a business plan. A traditional business plan can be anywhere from 10 to 50 pages long depending on how much detail you include in each section. However, as we said before unless you intend to pursue funding, you likely don’t need a lengthy business plan at first.
Instead, you can start with a lean plan that can be completed in as little as 30-minutes. This one-page business plan is designed to help you get the core information down about your business. It encourages you to focus on your financials and functions moreso as a long-term management tool that’s easy to review and update regularly.
So, if you’re pursuing funding check out our full guide on how to write a traditional business plan. If you’re looking for a faster, easier, and more effective long-term planning method, check out this guide from LivePlan on how to write a lean plan in under an hour.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated for 2022.