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Build Your Own Business Plan with This Step-by-Step Outline

So you’ve got a great business idea … now what?

Before you even think about taking out a loan, picking your first location or stocking up your inventory, you’ve gotta put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write that business plan.

(Need some help? Shoot KCSourceLink a line. We can connect you with resources (for free) to help you write your own business plan and much, much more.)

But why do you absolutely need one, and what do you put in it?

So first things first: Do you need a business plan? Does a fish need water? Does the Internet need GIFs? Does the Beyhive need Beyoncé? Short answer: heck, yes. Here’s why:

Aside from the obvious advantages of a business plan being an operating guide that can convince lenders and investors, including banks, to take a risk and fund your idea (your projections should suggest you’ve got something viable), it’s a super useful planning tool: It clarifies your business concept.

Ever had an idea for a project but didn’t have a clear direction … or just straight-up ignored the directions when you tried to assemble furniture from a certain Swedish mass-produced furniture store? Didn’t go so well, right? Well, your business plan is kinda like those instructions. It guides you toward an end goal with a careful plan that’s backed up with real-world data and facts. Yes, dreaming and being creative is important, but it’s that clear plan that will get your dreams off the ground and make them tangible. A business plan helps you think through all the options and supports the choices you’ve made. 

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And, keeping with that furniture-making analogy, a business plan also prevents you from building a mangled bar stool when you really wanted to make a solid rocking chair … so it’s clear to you and others involved (yes, funders, but also your employees and “future you”) what the goals are.

A business plan can help you build the business you intended, but it’s also a tool that can help with communications, sales, marketing, and much, much more. And you’ll be busy, so outlining this plan at the start will give you a good foundation after you’re knee-deep in startup land.

Once you get things going, a business plan can help keep you focused, not only before you start, but in the years after. It sounds counter-intuitive, but all this should be tied into an exit strategy. Yep. When you start a business you should plan on how you’ll leave it. This will inform other aspects of your business and help you navigate the twists and turns … because you might not want to make those “rocking chairs” forever.

And speaking of twists and turns, this plan isn’t something you write once and forget. It’s a living, breathing, flexible document that can change (and should change as you revisit it) as your business moves forward.

hands and a computer with the words startup written on a planSo it’s a pretty important formal document you’ll need to draft. Although it’s written in third-person (no I, us, we), it doesn’t need to be a textbook. This personal document (these can follow a basic outline, but they’re unique … no one size fits all) can lean toward the shorter side when you first craft one, but it should cover the basics. And like Rome, a business plan doesn’t have to be built in a day. Try writing these in bits and chunks so it’s manageable. We’ve done an outline for you. Now, actually writing your own is up to you.

Pro Tip: Although these first three items (1-3) will be listed first in your plan, experts actually recommend writing these last so you’re more likely to avoid redundancies in your report, so really, start with the Strategic Plan. Plus, things like a table of contents are easier to write when you know what the contents are.

A little freaked out? Chill. We’ve got you. Just give KCSourceLink a call at 816-235-6500 or drop us a line, and we’ll detail exactly who you can contact to help you to write your business plan … and whatever else you may need as you start and grow your business.

If you’re ready to tackle this, the U.S. Small Business Administration has a simple business plan outline and a template. Then there’s SCORE, which offers free help for entrepreneurs in the Kansas City metro. Of course, you can’t forget the Small Business and Technology Development Center – University of Missouri - Kansas City and the Kansas Small Business Development Center at Johnson County Community College (a huge help in writing this blog post). Plus, there are a ton of classes, seminars and workshops throughout the metro for business planning.

But if you’re ready for the real-deal, this detailed outline from the Kansas SBDC will wow those you send it to. Enough chit-chat. Let’s get started!

Cover page

This is simple stuff, but you can spruce it up so it looks impressive. Type it on high-quality paper (maybe something that’s a little heavier stock):

  • Business name

  • Owner name(s)

  • Address

  • Email

  • Phone number

Table of contents

Again, you might write this last, though this will be at the beginning of your document. This single page simply outlines the major topics in the plan and gives the reader a roadmap of what’s inside and where to find everything.

Executive Summary

You also might save this for later once you have the rest of the content written. This is also a single page near the beginning that sums up the important parts of your plan that you’ll go into more detail later on. You might include:

  • Business description and industry

  • Business entity type (LLC, etc.)

  • Owners and the percentage ownership of each

  • Objective

  • Target markets

  • Key target dates

  • Funding you’ll need and what money you’re personally putting in

  • How you’ll use the funds

  • A small table that shows three years of the sales you project and the net profits you think you might have

These next sections get into the nitty gritty, so it’s time to get strategic. This is where you’ll to address the industry and business, products and services, goals, contingencies, continuity and exit planning. These aspects aren’t shots in the dark; they require some planning and research on your part, which you can do through a variety of resources (many of them FREE) … like your local library:

1. Strategic Plan

Industry and the Business

Goals, Contingencies, Continuity and Exit Planning

  • List the major goals you’ll want your business to hit

  • Note the key threats and what the contingency plan is when those threats arise

  • Say what you’d plan to do if the owner or key manager can’t work

  • Pick a timeframe to exit the business and have a plan for what could happen next

Products and Services

  • Explain what your products and/or services are and how you’ll bundle and package them

  • List the value proposition of your products and services or what’s attractive to consumers about what you’re offering

  • Describe the need your product or service satisfies

  • Note if there’s a seasonal demand, what the lifecycle of the product is and how the customer experience might go

2. Market Analysis and Marketing Plan

So now that you’ve got the numbers in place and a solid foundation, how do you plan to deal with the competition, handle what might hinder your business and leverage trends to inform your operations strategy and marketing? First, you’ll need to analyze a few things and consider how you’ll navigate some potential hurdles.

Industry Analysis

  • What does the competitive landscape look like?

  • What are the key industry metrics? (Those are things like gross margins, sales per employee, etc.)

  • What will drive the demand for your product or service?

  • What industry trends should you consider, as far as consumer demands, products/services, technology, etc.

  • Who are your key competitors?

'SWOT' Analysis

  • Strengths: What internal factors support the business?

  • Weaknesses: What internal factors could limit the success?

  • Opportunities: What external factors can you leverage to succeed?

  • Threats: What external factors might trip you up?

Four Forces

  • What are the obstacles to entering the industry?

  • How intense is the competition? What are your key competitors’ strengths?

  • What alternatives are out there to your products and services?

  • What’s the bargaining strength of customers and suppliers?

Marketing Plan

  • What sets your product apart, as far as features, packaging or other differentiators?

  • What are some pricing strategies ranging from good to best? What are the policies for discounts and bundles?

  • Where will your products and services be bought and delivered?

  • What tactics—like advertising, social media, content marketing—will drive demand?

3. Operational Plan

This section covers what your business needs to run: the gears that keep things turning. That includes stuff like day-to-day operations, what legal resources you’ll need and how you’ll manage money. You’ll also discuss the management structure of your business.

Operations Activities

  • What are the day-to-day operations? How will your products and services be delivered?

  • How will you manage your inventory?

  • Who are your key suppliers?

  • When will you be open?

  • What equipment and software do you need?

  • How will you handle quality control?

Legal Environment

  • What’s the legal structure of the business (LLC, etc.) or the percent ownership if there are multiple owners?

  • What professional resources will you need in the legal realm?

  • What do you need for risk management, like insurance, etc.?

  • What compliance and regulatory requirements do you have to meet?

  • What zoning and codes will affect your business?

  • What intellectual property should you consider? (That includes things like trademarks, patents, proprietary methods, etc.)

  • What major contracts will you have to sign and how will those affect your business?

Money Management

  • How will you handle customer payments or billing?

  • What are the terms of payment?

  • How will you handle cash?

Management, Labor and Organization

  • What are your skills and experience?

  • Who will be the managers and key personnel?

  • How many employees will you hire? Will they be full-time or part-time? What will be their titles and job descriptions?

  • What do you need to do to train new employees?

4. Financial Plan

Have you calculated your financial projections? If you’re not sure, classes, worksheets and business services at the Kansas City Public Library in Missouri, Mid-Continent Public Library, the Small Business Administration, SCORE and more can help you tackle this.

5. Appendix

This is where your supporting documents live. Those include leases, major contracts, letters of intent, equipment lists, construction quotes and other items you’ll want to include as supporting evidence.

> > > > Still have questions about writing your business plan? Not sure what your next steps are? KCSourceLink can help. Tell us a few details about yourself or call us at 816-235-6500 and we’ll craft your free Personal Action Plan to help you get where you want to go.


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