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Business Plan Elements -1

March 29, 2009

The U.S. Small Business Administration publishes a number of helpful articles about Business Planning.  Here is the first in a series of several articles about what should be included.

A business plan should be a work-in-progress. Even successful, growing businesses should maintain a current business plan.

As any good salesperson knows, you have to know everything you can about your products or services in order to persuade someone to buy them. In this discussion, you are the salesperson and your products represent your business. Your customers are potential investors and employees. Since you want your customers to believe in you, you must be able to convince them that you know what you are talking about when it comes to your business.

To become an expert (or to fine-tune your knowledge if you already believe you are one), you must be willing to roll up your sleeves and begin digging through information. Since not all information that you gather will be relevant to the development of your business plan, it will help you to know what you are looking for before you get started. In order to help you with this process, we have developed an outline of the essential elements a good business plan.

Every successful business plan should include something about each of the following areas, since these are what make up the essentials of a good business plan:

Part 1: The Executive Summary

The executive summary is the most important section of your business plan. It provides a concise overview of the entire plan along with a history of your company. This section tells your reader where your company is and where you want to take it. It’s the first thing your readers see; therefore it is the thing that will either grab their interest and make them want to keep reading or make them want to put it down and forget about it. More thananything else, this section is important because it tells the reader why you think your business idea will be successful.

The executive summary should be the last section you write. After you’ve worked out all the details of your plan, you’ll be in a better position to summarize it – and it should be a summary (i.e., no more than 4 pages).

The contents of the Executive Summary should begin with The Mission Statement which briefly explains the thrust of your business. It could be two words, two sentences, a paragraph, or even a single image. It should be as direct and focused as possible, and it should leave the reader with a clear picture of what your business is all about.

You should also include  the date business began, the names of founders and the functions they perform, the number of employees, locations of any branches or subsidiaries, a description of plant or facilities as well as the products manufactured or theservices rendered.  Include information concerning banking relationships and information regarding current investors.

Summarize company growth including financial and market highlights (e.g. your company doubled its worth in 12-month period; you became the first company in your industry to provide a certain service).

Briefly summarize management’s future plans.

With the exception of the mission statement, all of the information in the Executive Summary should be highlighted in a brief, even bulleted, fashion. Remember, these facts are laid out in-depth further along in the plan.

If you’re just starting a business, you won’t have a lot of information to plug into the areas mentioned above. Instead, focus on your experience and background as well as the decisions that led you to start this particular enterprise. Include information about the problems your target market has and what solutions you provide. Show how the expertise you have will allow you to make significant inroads into the market. Tell your reader what you’re going to do differently or better. Convince the reader that there is a need for your service or product, then go ahead and address your (the company’s) future plans.

To assist the reader in locating specific sections in your business plan, include a table of contents directly following the executive summary. Make sure that the content titles are very broad; in other words, avoid detailed descriptions in your table of contents.

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