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  • Starting a business
    • Business planning

How to write a business plan

  • Article

If you're planning to launch a start-up or small business, this guide on how to write a business plan will help you create an effective road map to success. A thoughtfully researched, well-structured business plan can give you greater clarity on your business’s vision, help you avoid potential pitfalls and can help ensure you stay on track for your business goals. Read on to discover the essential elements of business planning, common mistakes to avoid, and business plan tips on how to make your plan compelling and ready for investors.

What is a business plan?
Why is a business plan important?
What to consider when writing a business plan?
What to include in a business plan?
Business plan formats
How to write a business plan
How to start a business plan
What does a business plan look like?
How long should a business plan be?
Common business plan mistakes
FAQ on creating a business plan

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a strategic document that details your business's objectives and the steps you’ll take to achieve them.

It is a tool that covers everything from your business strategy and key goals to financial projections and management structure. A business plan is also your opportunity to describe your company or proposed project in detail, showcasing both your short-term and long-term goals, budget details, and unique selling propositions (USPs).

Let's dive into understanding what a business plan looks like, why it's so important, and how you can create one for your business.

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Why is a business plan important?

A business plan is important because it helps you create an effective plan for your new enterprise that allows you to make informed decisions, set clear goals, and manage your enterprise effectively.

The importance of a business plan becomes clear when you want to set your business apart from the competition.

Here’s how a business plan can help:

  1. Guidance and structure: A plan outlines your goals and strategies, providing a roadmap for your business.
  2. Attracting investment: It's essential for attracting investors and lenders who need to understand your strategy before funding it.
  3. Identifying strengths and weaknesses: Business plan writing helps identify potential pitfalls and strengths in your business idea.
  4. Planning for growth: Creates a strategy for facilitating future growth and expansion.
  5. Understanding your market: Includes research that helps you understand your target audience and competition.

What to consider when writing a business plan

When you write a business plan, there are important questions you need to consider.

Step 1. Understand your target market

The first step is understanding your target market. Who are they? What do they need? How will your product or service cater to these needs?

Your business plan should be designed to serve this audience. You’ll need to conduct thorough market research and include this data in your plan.

Step 2. Define your business goals

The second step is to clearly define your business goals. What do you want to achieve in the next year, five years, or ten years?

Having clear, measurable objectives will guide your business plan and help you stay focused on your end goal.

Step 3. Know your USP

Next, consider your unique selling proposition (USP). This is what sets you apart from the competition. Highlighting your USP in your business plan will not only help you stand out but also attract potential investors.

The financial aspect is another key factor. You need to have a clear understanding of your financial needs, cash flow projections, and profitability forecasts. This information is particularly important if you're seeking funding from investors or lenders.

Lastly, remember that your business plan is a living document. It should evolve as your business grows and changes.

Be prepared to review and update it regularly to reflect new goals, strategies, or market conditions. This flexibility will ensure that your business plan remains relevant and effective.

What should you include in a business plan?

When developing a business plan, it can be helpful to first look at business plan examples in your relevant industry. There is no fixed business plan template, but many plans will include the following elements:

1. Executive summary

Your business plan should start with a succinct overview of your plan that highlights the key points and creates a strong initial impression. It should be compelling enough to encourage readers to read further.

2. Company description

This section should provide an overview of what your business does, the problems it solves, and the market it serves.

3. Market analysis

The market analysis section requires a thorough understanding of your industry, target market, and competition. You should demonstrate knowledge of market trends, customer needs, and the competitive landscape.

4. Business goals

Define both your short-term and long-term objectives to provide a clear vision of where you want your business to be in the future. You can also describe how you plan to achieve these goals.

5. Products and services

You should describe what you're selling or what services you offer, highlighting how your offerings stand out from the competition.

6. Financial plan

You should include a detailed overview of your finances, including cash flow statements and profit projections. This section shows potential investors that you have a solid understanding of the financial aspects of running a business.

Your business plan is a marketing document. It should be concise, engaging, and persuasive, convincing potential investors, partners, and employees of the viability and potential of your business.

Business plan formats

Business plan format can vary depending on industry. For instance, a restaurant's business plan might feature a sample menu and location demographics, while a tech start-up may focus on development timelines and patent protections.

A small business plan is likely to look very different to a large business plan. Tailor your business plan to your specific industry and business type.

The complexity of your business plan might also depend on its purpose. If you're seeking significant investment, you'll need detailed financial projections. However, if the plan is mainly for internal use, you might focus more on strategy and team organisation.

In short, while there are common components in every business plan, the specifics can vary widely. Ensure your business plan is relevant to your industry, audience, and business needs.

How to write a business plan

Writing a business plan requires research and attention to detail for each section. Below, you’ll find a 9-step guide for researching and defining each element in the plan.

  1. Write an executive summary
  2. Draft a business description
  3. Conduct market analysis
  4. List your management and organisation structure
  5. Outline services or products
  6. Define your marketing and sales strategy
  7. Describe your funding needs
  8. Plan financial projections
  9. Appendix of supporting documents
Two people sitting at a table smiling, one is typing on a laptop and the other is holding a pen and notebook

1. Write an executive summary

This is a brief overview of your business plan. It should include your business’s name, location, and the products or services you offer. Also mention your mission statement and your business’s USP (unique selling proposition). Remember, the executive summary should be concise yet compelling, persuading the reader to learn more about your business.

Your executive summary should include:

  • Business concept: What does your company do? What are your products or services? This section should clearly articulate your business’s core concept.
  • Company information: Include the company’s name, when it was founded (if applicable), the names of the founders and their roles, the team and size, and location of premises.
  • Growth highlights: If your business is already established, describe how much it has grown since inception, including financial or market highlights.
  • Products/services: Describe what you sell or the service you offer. Explain how it benefits your customers and what makes it unique to the market.
  • Financial information: If you’re seeking funding from investors, include a brief overview of your projections and what you’re asking for.
  • Future plans: Summarise where you plan to take your business in the future. This could include potential growth, new products or services, or expansion into new markets.

2. Draft a business description

Describe your business in detail. Include the business structure (sole trader, partnership, limited company), the nature of your business, and the marketplace needs that your business aims to fulfil.

3. Conduct market analysis

This is where you demonstrate that you understand your industry and market. Include information about your target customers, including their demographics and buying habits. Also analyse your competition, outlining their strengths and weaknesses.

What else to include:

  • Industry overview: This gives a broad view of your industry. You can include its size, growth rate, trends, and outlook.
  • Target market: Identify who your customers are. You should define them by demographic factors like age, gender, income level, and geographic location. Also consider psychographic factors such as lifestyle, values, and attitudes.
  • Market need: Determine what problem your product or service solves for your target market. This could be a gap in the market, an unfulfilled need, or an improvement on existing products or services.
  • Competition analysis: Identify your direct and indirect competitors. Analyse their strengths and weaknesses, and how your business compares.
  • Pricing and forecast: Set your pricing strategy based on your understanding of the market and competition. Include a forecast for your potential market share and sales.
  • Regulatory environment: Understand any laws or regulations that could impact your industry. This includes permits, licenses, or regulatory compliance requirements.
  • SWOT analysis: Identify your business's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT). This helps you understand your business's position within the marketplace.

4. List your management and organisation structure

Outline your business's organisational structure. Identify the owners, management team, and any key employees. Include an organisational chart if possible.

5. Outline services or products

Describe what your business offers. If you sell products, explain how they are produced, their cost, and how you will sell them. If you provide services, describe them in detail, and list any associated costs.

6. Define your marketing and sales strategy

Detail how you plan to attract and retain customers. Include your sales strategy and the marketing channels you plan to use. Here's what it should include:

  • Target market: Define who your customers are - their demographics, behaviours, and needs – and what kinds of marketing message they are likely to respond to. This will guide your marketing efforts.
  • Unique selling proposition (USP): Identify what makes your product or service unique. How does it stand out from the competition? How will you convey this in your marketing?
  • Pricing strategy: Explain how you have priced your products or services and why this will appeal to your target market.
  • Sales plan: Detail how you'll sell your product. Will it be online, in a physical store, or both? Will you have a sales team? How will you bring your business to the target market?
  • Promotional strategy: Describe how you will promote your business. This could include social media marketing, SEO, content marketing, advertising, public relations, and more.
  • Retention strategy: Outline how you plan to keep your customers coming back. This could involve excellent customer service, loyalty programs, regular updates or improvements to the product or service, etc.
  • Partnerships and collaborations: If applicable, discuss any partnerships or collaborations that will play a role in your marketing and sales plan.
  • Measurement: Define how you'll measure the success of your marketing and sales efforts. This could be through key performance indicators (KPIs) like website traffic, conversion rates, customer acquisition cost, customer lifetime value, etc.

Your marketing and sales strategy should be flexible. As you learn more about your market and customers, adjust your strategies accordingly.

7. Describe your funding needs

If you are seeking investors or applying for business loans, you should include a funding request section within your business plan. It should include:

  • Funding request: Start with the exact amount of funding you are seeking. Be clear and specific.
  • Use of funds: Explain in detail how you plan to use the funds. This could be for starting costs, working capital, business expansion, or any other business expenses.
  • Future funding: If you anticipate needing additional funding in the future, mention this. Provide an estimate of how much you might need, when you might need it, and what for.
  • Business financials: Provide a snapshot of your financial statements and forecasts. Include your income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement, business loans, and any other relevant financial data.
  • Exit strategy: If you're seeking equity investment, describe your exit strategy. This could be selling the company, merging with another company, or going public with an IPO (initial public offering).
  • Repayment plan: If you're requesting a loan, outline your plan for repaying it. Provide a schedule and method of repayment.

When considering where to secure funding, it's essential to explore your options. You may want to consider our app-based HSBC Kinetic Current Account for sole traders and single director shareholder businesses, or our Small Business Bank Account for small enterprises. Eligibility criteria apply.

Both accounts are designed to support the growth and financial management of your business. These platforms provide a range of services that cater to your business's needs, from daily transactions to long-term financial planning.

8. Plan financial projections

Provide a forecast of your business's financial future. This can include balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements for the next three to five years. Consider incorporating HSBC Kinetic into your financial planning for a comprehensive and digital-first approach to managing your business finances. Eligibility criteria apply.

Here are examples of what to include:

  • Sales forecast: This is the amount of money you anticipate from sales of your products or services. It should be broken down monthly for the first year, then annually for the following two to five years.
  • Income statement (profit and loss statement): This document shows your business’s profitability over time. It should include revenue, costs of goods sold, operating expenses, and net income.
  • Cash flow statement: This demonstrates where your business is earning and spending money by highlighting how balance sheets and income affect your cash or cash equivalents.
  • Balance sheet: This document provides a snapshot of your business's financial position at a particular moment in time. It lists your assets, liabilities, and equity.
  • Capital expenditure budget: If there are large expenses for long-term assets such as property or equipment, these should be detailed here.
  • Break-even analysis: This analysis shows when your company can cover all the expenses and make a profit.
  • Financial ratios: These ratios compare financial metrics from your financial statements to assess your company’s financial health. They can provide valuable insights into how well the company is performing.

Your projections should be realistic, with all assumptions clearly stated. If you're a start-up with no financial history, base your projections on research and industry averages. If you're an existing business, use your past financial performance as a guide.

It can be beneficial to seek professional advice when preparing this section of your business plan, as it will be scrutinised by investors and lenders.

9. Appendix of supporting documents

An optional section that includes any additional supporting documents such as legal documents, permits, and contracts.

Writing a business plan is not a one-time event. It should be updated regularly as your business grows and changes.

How to start a business plan

Starting a business plan generally involves seven practical steps and may require consultation with other professionals. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to start:

  1. Understand the purpose of your plan:

    Are you trying to secure funding? Are you using it as a roadmap for your business? The purpose will shape the content and focus of your plan.
  2. Research your industry:

    Before you write a business plan, you need to understand your industry, market, and competitors thoroughly. This might involve online research, surveys, or talking to other people in your industry.
  3. Outline your plan:

    Create a business plan structure and sections. Typically, this includes an executive summary of what’s in the plan, company description, market research, organisation and management structure, service or product line description, marketing and sales plan, funding request (if applicable), financial projections, and an appendix.
  4. Write the plan:

    Start filling in each section of your outline. Be concise and clear, making sure each section links together as part of a cohesive whole.
  5. Review and edit:

    Once you've written your first draft, take the time to review and refine it. Look for any errors or areas that could be clearer.
  6. Get feedback:

    Consider sharing your plan with trusted business associates, mentors, or professionals like accountants or business advisors. They can provide valuable feedback and spot potential issues.
  7. Finalise your plan:

    Based on the feedback, make the final adjustments to your business plan.

Here are some people you might want to talk to when you write a business plan:

  • Industry peers or mentors: People with experience in your field can provide valuable insights and advice.
  • Business advisors or coaches: These professionals can offer guidance and help you avoid common pitfalls.
  • Accountants: They can assist with the financial aspects of your plan, including projections and identifying potential costs.
  • Potential customers: Speaking with your target audience can help you understand their needs and preferences, which can inform your marketing and sales plan.
  • Legal advisors: If your business has any legal considerations, such as patents or regulations, a legal advisor can ensure these are properly addressed in your plan.

A business plan isn't a static document - it should evolve with your business. Regularly updating your plan can help you adapt to changes and stay on track towards your goals.

How long should a business plan be?

The recommended length of a business plan can vary depending on the complexity of your business model and the purpose of the plan. However, a typical business plan ranges from 15 to 35 pages.

What does a business plan look like?

Your business plan can and should be branded to reflect your business identity. Here's how:

  1. Cover page:

    Incorporate your logo, company colours, and other brand elements into the cover page design. This will make a strong first impression and immediately identify the document with your business.
  2. Headers and sub-headers:

    Use your brand’s typography for headers and sub-headers. Consistent use of fonts and font sizes helps reinforce your brand and makes the document look professional.
  3. Colour scheme:

    Use your brand's colour scheme throughout the document, in charts, headers, and even bullet points. This not only adds visual interest but also strengthens your brand identity.
  4. Images and graphics:

    If your brand has specific imagery or graphic elements associated with it, consider integrating these into the business plan. For example, product photos, diagrams, or infographics could all be styled to match your brand.
  5. Tone of voice:

    The language and tone used in your business plan should align with your brand voice. Whether your brand is formal and professional, or casual and friendly, ensure this is reflected in the writing.
  6. Consistency:

    Above all, be consistent. Every element of your business plan should align with your brand, from the cover page to the appendix. This helps create a cohesive, professional image.

Your plan is a reflection of your business. By incorporating your brand into the design, you're not just creating a strategy document - you're showcasing your business's identity.

FAQ on creating a business plan

You may have many questions when creating your new business plan. Below we look at some of the common ones.

How much information should I include in my business plan?

Your business plan should be concise yet comprehensive, providing all the necessary information. The length might also depend on whether you're writing the plan for internal use, for potential investors, or for a loan application, as each audience might have different expectations.

It can be helpful to mark out which sections are for which audience, so that you can edit into a new document as required, rather than starting a new business plan from scratch.

What is the proper business plan format?

Printed versions of your business plan should be on standard A4 paper, bound neatly, and presented in a professional manner. All electronic versions should be in a PDF format and have a clear file name for ease of sharing.

The layout should be clear and easy to navigate, with headers, sub-headers, bullet points, and plenty of white space to make the document easy to read.

Common business plan mistakes

There are common mistakes that businesses can make when writing a plan. These include:

  1. Lack of planning:

    A business plan is not something to be rushed. It requires careful thought as well as thorough research. Neglecting this process can result in an ineffective plan.
  2. Wrong audience:

    Your business plan should be tailored to its intended audience. Whether it's for potential investors, lenders, or internal stakeholders, it needs to address their specific interests and concerns.
  3. It’s too long:

    While it's important to be comprehensive, lengthy and complicated business plans can be off-putting. Keep it concise and straightforward.
  4. Insufficient market research:

    Not understanding your market can lead to unrealistic assumptions and strategies. Make sure you have a deep understanding of your target market, competition, and industry trends.
  5. Unrealistic financial projections:

    Over-optimistic revenue forecasts or underestimating costs can damage your credibility. Keep them based in reality.
  6. Not addressing potential risks:

    Every business faces risks. Identifying these risks and outlining how you'll mitigate them shows that you're prepared and adds credibility to your plan.
  7. Poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation:

    Errors in your business plan can give the impression that you lack attention to detail. Make sure your plan is well-written and proofread.
  8. Unclear business model:

    Your business plan should clearly outline how your business will make money. If this isn't clear, it can raise red flags for potential investors or lenders.

Writing a business plan may seem like a daunting task at first, but with careful planning, thorough research, and thoughtful consideration of each section - from the executive summary to financial projections - you can create a powerful document that serves as a roadmap for your business's success.

Business plan template

We've created a free business plan template to help you get started.

Remember, a business plan is not a static document. As your business grows and evolves, so too should your business plan. Regular reviews and updates will ensure your plan remains relevant and continues to guide your strategic decision-making.

Whether you're seeking investment, planning for growth, or simply setting the course for your day-to-day operations, a well-crafted business plan is an invaluable tool for every business owner. With the advice and guidance provided in this guide, you're now well-equipped to create a robust and compelling business plan.

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