The easiest way to simplify the work of writing a business plan is to start with a business plan template.
You’re already investing time and energy in planning your small business—there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to formatting your plan. Instead, to help build a complete and effective plan, lean on time-tested structures created by entrepreneurs who have come before you.
Business planning is often used to secure funding, but plenty of business owners find writing a plan valuable, even if they never work with an investor. That’s why we put together a free business plan template to help you get started.
Why write a business plan at all?
It’s tempting to dive right into execution when you’re excited about a new business or side project, but taking the time to write a business plan and get your thoughts on paper allows you to do a number of beneficial things:
- Evaluate your business ideas. Whether you’ve got one business idea or many, a good business plan can make an idea more tangible, helping you see if they’re truly viable.
- Plan for your next phase. Whether your goal is to start a new business or scale an existing business to the next level, a business plan can help you understand what needs to happen and identify gaps to address.
- Clarify strategy, goals, and tactics. Writing a business plan can show you the actionable next steps to take on a big, abstract idea. It can also help you narrow your strategy and identify clear-cut tactics that will support it.
- Scope the necessary work. Without a concrete plan, cost overruns and delays are all but certain. A business plan can help you see the full scope of work to be done and adjust your investment of time and money accordingly.
- Hire and build partnerships. When you need buy-in from potential employees and team members, especially in the early stages of your business, a clearly written business plan is one of the best tools at your disposal. A business plan provides a refined look at your goals for the business, letting partners judge for themselves whether or not they agree with your vision.
- Secure funds. Securing funding for your business, whether from investors or a bank, is one of the most common reasons to create a business plan.
Why use a business plan template?
A business plan can be as informal or formal as your situation calls for, but even if you’re a fan of the back-of-the-napkin approach to planning, there are some key benefits to starting your plan from an existing outline or template.
- No blank-page paralysis. A blank page can be intimidating to even the most seasoned writers. Using an established framework and guidelines can help you get past the inertia of starting your business plan, and it allows you to skip the work of building an outline from scratch. You can always adjust a template to suit your needs.
- Guidance on what to include in each section. If you’ve never sat through a business class, you might never have created a SWOT analysis or a balance sheet before. Templates that offer guidance—in plain language—about how to fill in each section can help you navigate sometimes-daunting business jargon and create a complete and effective plan.
- Knowing you’ve considered every section. In some cases, you may not need to complete every section of a business plan template, but its initial structure shows you you’re choosing to omit a section as opposed to forgetting to include it in the first place.
Who should use this business plan template
This template is designed to ensure you’re thinking through all of the important facets of starting a new business or growing an existing one. It’s intended to help future small business owners consider the full scope of running a business, and identify functional areas they may not have considered or where they may need to level up their skills as they grow.
That said, it may not include the specific details or structure preferred by a potential investor or lender. If your goal with a business plan is to secure funding, check with your target organizations—typically banks or investors—to see if they have a template you can follow to maximize your chances of success.
Sections included in this business plan template
This free business plan template includes the following sections:
- Executive summary. A one-page summary of your whole plan, typically written after the rest of the plan is completed.
- Company overview. An overview can include many potential sub-sections, from the basic (your type of business structure) to the meaningful (your business’s vision and mission statement).
- Market analysis. Everything from market research, to your estimated target market size, to a full-blown competitive analysis.
- Products and services. What you sell, and the most important features of your products or services.
- Marketing plan. How you intend to get the word out to your target customers and what decisions you’ve made about your overall marketing strategy, as well as specific priorities like your pricing strategy.
- Logistics and operations plan. Everything that needs to happen to turn your raw materials into products and get them into the hands of your customers.
- Financial plan. It’s important to include a look at your current financial projections. This section includes three key financial statements: an income statement, a balance sheet, and a cash-flow statement.
In our business plan template, each section includes an overview of the most important information to cover and guidelines on how to approach writing and researching each one.
How to write your business plan using this free template
There are some high-level strategic guidelines beyond the advice included in this free business plan template that can help you write an effective, complete plan while minimizing busywork.
- Know your audience. If you’re writing a business plan for yourself in order to get clarity on your ideas and your industry as a whole, you may not need to include the same level of detail or polish you would with a business plan you want to send to potential investors. Knowing who will read your plan will help you decide how much time to spend on it.
- Know your goals. Understanding the goals of your plan can help you set the right scope. If your goal is to use the plan as a roadmap for growth, you may invest more time in it than if your goal is to understand the competitive landscape of a new industry.
- Take it step-by-step. Writing a 10- to 15-page document can feel daunting, so try to tackle one section at a time. Select a couple of sections you feel most confident writing and start there—you can start on the next few sections once those are complete. Jot down bullet-point notes in each section before you start writing to organize your thoughts and streamline the writing process.
Once you’ve done the strategic work, it’s time to put it into action and write your plan. Download the business plan template, and review our guide on writing a business plan for additional information.
A business plan example to inspire you
We’ve filled out a sample business plan as a companion to our template, featuring a fictional ecommerce business.
Our fictional business creates custom greeting cards with your pet’s paw prints on them, and the founder of the business is writing a plan to help understand the market, as well as the logistics and costs involved, to give themselves the best chance of success before they launch.
The sample is set up to help you get a sense of each section and understand how they apply to the planning and evaluation stages of a business plan. If you’re looking for funding, especially through venture capital, this example won’t be a complete or formal look at a business plan, but it will give you a great place to start and ideas about which sections to expand.
Maximize your efforts with a business plan template
Although even the best-crafted plan may not survive its first contact with reality, the act of planning is still invaluable for your business. To make sure your efforts are focused on the highest-value parts of planning, like clarifying your goals, setting a strategy, and understanding the market and competitive landscape, lean on a business plan template to handle the structure and format for you. Even if you eventually omit sections, you’ll save yourself time and energy by starting with a framework already in place.