How do I write a business plan?

Gregg Fairbrothers:  Written business plans may or may not be needed for outside parties like investors, but writing a plan is still a good idea. If nothing else, the exercise imposes a discipline on you and your team to really think through the aspects of your launch. Fortunately, planning is a lot easier than it’s sometimes made out to be. Really, it just comes down to answering a standard set of the questions every startup should worry about.

  1. Sooner or later, you’ll have to present your business opportunity and plan of action to someone. So you should create a plan in a conventional form.
  2. You’ll have no problem finding conventional forms. If you want to find a form to follow, Google “business plan” and choose one of the 380 million hits that come up.
  3. There is a general consensus on what people expect to see. A good plan and presentation answer the obvious questions before they’re asked. A good plan is simple, significant, and short. It focuses on the key points and substantiates them.
  4. Here are the high level places where you should answer questions about your idea:
    • Who are you?
    • What need are you filling?
    • What’s the market and who is(are) the customer(s)?
    • What’s the product or solution you are selling?
    • What’s the operating plan?  How will you develop the product, make it, sell it?
    • What are you doing about the competition?
    • Who is on the team?  Why are they qualified?
    • What will your financials look like?
    • How will your investors make a return on their investment?
    • What money do you need to make this happen, and how will you spend it?
    • What are the next steps and the timeline?
  5.  Of course there is all kinds of detail underneath each of these headings, but there are many places to find the details people are looking for in plans. Some of it may even agree.
  6. One last point: the question, “How do I write a business plan?” implies you write a plan and are done. In reality, you never stop writing your plan. It’s an evolving process, and if there aren’t major course changes somewhere along the way (the jargon is “pivots”), you’re either brilliant, incredibly lucky, or missing something. Business planning never ends. Richard Nixon recalled Dwight Eisenhower saying, “Plans are useless; planning is essential.”
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