business-plan

What Is A Business Plan And Why It Matters In Business

A business plan is a document that details key operational and financial goals for a business and how they will be achieved in the future. Essentially, a business plan is an exercise in due diligence. While no business plan can accurately predict the future, they do demonstrate and give insight into the likelihood of eventual profitability. This in turn removes some of the entrepreneurial risk associated with investing large amounts of time and capital into a new venture.

A typical business plan structure

Business plan structure varies considerably across industries, but most incorporate these parts as a part of a 10 to 20-page document.

  1. Business concept – what is the nature of the industry the business intends to operate in? What is the structure of the business and what are the products or services it will offer? How will it achieve success?
  2. Marketplace analysis – who is the potential target audience and why are they motivated to buy? Is there an existing demand for the product or service? In this part, it’s crucial to be as detailed as possible. Develop a target demographic and associated buyer persona through in-depth research.
  3. Competitive analysis – who are the main competitors and what are their strengths and weaknesses? Is the market saturated or impenetrable? If the market does have established players, then strategies must be devised to acquire market share.
  4. Financial plan – if financing is required, then a sound financial plan will be key in attracting capital from banks, investors, or venture capitalists. As best as possible, develop income and cash flow statements, balance sheets, and break-even analyses. The goal here is to convince interested parties that the business has a realistic chance of success.
  5. Management and legal structure – how will the company be structured and who will lead it? What skills do management bring to the table and how will they contribute to success? A sound business plan should also define the intended legal structure, whether that be incorporated, partnership, sole proprietor, or LLC.

The four main categories of business plans

Business plans usually fall under one of four main categories:

  • The mini-plan – used to quickly test a concept or gauge the interest of a prospective investment partner. Mini-plans are typically short at 1-10 pages in length.
  • The working plan – used to describe how a business could operate once established. The working plan is primarily an internal document; it does not need to look attractive with supporting photography, formatting, and appendices.
  • The presentation plan – or a working plan submitted to interested external parties. Industry jargon and slang should be removed in favor of standard business language. The presentation plan should incorporate all aspects of a typical business plan structure. Attention to detail is also a must. Figures must be correct and words free of typing errors. The plan should also be professionally bound and printed.
  • The electronic plan – in the digital age, many organizations find it useful to keep electronic copies of their business plans. These are useful for savvy investors who want to delve into complex spreadsheets for analysis. They are also ideal for presentations and virtual meetings.

Key takeaways

  • A business plan is a comprehensive document that highlights the goals of a business and how it plans to achieve them.
  • A business plan is essential for new businesses where due diligence is crucial in attracting external investment or predicting long-term viability. All businesses – regardless of maturity – should use and adhere to such a plan.
  • There are four main categories of business plans, with each category suited to a particular stage of the business life cycle.

Other Business Tools

competitor-analysis
It’s possible to identify the key players that overlap with a company’s business model with a competitor analysis. This overlapping can be analyzed in terms of key customers, technologies, distribution, and financial models. When all those elements are analyzed, it is possible to map all the facets of competition for a tech business model to understand better where a business stands in the marketplace and its possible future developments.
porter-five-forces
Porter’s Five Forces is a model that helps organizations to gain a better understanding of their industries and competition. Published for the first time by Professor Michael Porter in his book “Competitive Strategy” in the 1980s. The model breaks down industries and markets by analyzing them through five forces
porters-diamond-model
Porter’s Diamond Model is a diamond-shaped framework that explains why specific industries in a nation become internationally competitive while those in other nations do not. The model was first published in Michael Porter’s 1990 book The Competitive Advantage of Nations. This framework looks at the firm strategy, structure/rivalry, factor conditions, demand conditions, related and supporting industries.
four-corners-analysis
Developed by American academic Michael Porter, the Four Corners Analysis helps a business understand its particular competitive landscape. The analysis is a form of competitive intelligence where a business determines its future strategy by assessing its competitors’ strategy, looking at four elements: drivers, current strategy, management assumptions, and capabilities.
balanced-scorecard
First proposed by accounting academic Robert Kaplan, the balanced scorecard is a management system that allows an organization to focus on big-picture strategic goals. The four perspectives of the balanced scorecard include financial, customer, business process, and organizational capacity. From there, according to the balanced scorecard, it’s possible to have a holistic view of the business.
scenario-planning
Businesses use scenario planning to make assumptions on future events and how their respective business environments may change in response to those future events. Therefore, scenario planning identifies specific uncertainties – or different realities and how they might affect future business operations. Scenario planning attempts at better strategic decision making by avoiding two pitfalls: underprediction, and overprediction.
one-page-business-plan
A one-page business plan is a simple tool to clear your mind. It focuses on three questions: What core problem am I solving? Who are my potential key customers? Where do I find them? It helps define the problem, profile the key customer, and find the key distribution channel.

Connected Companion Business Tools

Ansoff Matrix

ansoff-matrix
You can use the Ansoff Matrix as a strategic framework to understand what growth strategy is more suited based on the market context. Developed by mathematician and business manager Igor Ansoff, it assumes a growth strategy can be derived by whether the market is new or existing, and the product is new or existing.

ReadAnsoff Matrix In A Nutshell

BCG Matrix

bcg-matrix
In the 1970s, Bruce D. Henderson, founder of the Boston Consulting Group, came up with The Product Portfolio (aka BCG Matrix, or Growth-share Matrix), which would look at a successful business product portfolio based on potential growth and market shares. It divided products into four main categories: cash cows, pets (dogs), question marks, and stars.

ReadBCG Matrix

Balanced Scorecard

balanced-scorecard
First proposed by accounting academic Robert Kaplan, the balanced scorecard is a management system that allows an organization to focus on big-picture strategic goals. The four perspectives of the balanced scorecard include financial, customer, business process, and organizational capacity. From there, according to the balanced scorecard, it’s possible to have a holistic view of the business.

ReadBalanced Scorecard

Blue Ocean Strategy

blue-ocean-strategy
A blue ocean is a strategy where the boundaries of existing markets are redefined, and new uncontested markets are created. At its core, there is value innovation, for which uncontested markets are created, where competition is made irrelevant. And the cost-value trade-off is broken. Thus, companies following a blue ocean strategy offer much more value at a lower cost for the end customers.

ReadBlue Ocean Strategy

PEST Analysis

pestel-analysis
The PESTEL analysis is a framework that can help marketers assess whether macro-economic factors are affecting an organization. This is a critical step that helps organizations identify potential threats and weaknesses that can be used in other frameworks such as SWOT or to gain a broader and better understanding of the overall marketing environment.

ReadPestel Analysis

Scenario Planning

scenario-planning
Businesses use scenario planning to make assumptions on future events and how their respective business environments may change in response to those future events. Therefore, scenario planning identifies specific uncertainties – or different realities and how they might affect future business operations. Scenario planning attempts at better strategic decision making by avoiding two pitfalls: underprediction, and overprediction.

ReadScenario Planning

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

ReadSWOT Analysis In A Nutshell

Growth Matrix

growth-strategies
In the FourWeekMBA growth matrix, you can apply growth for existing customers by tackling the same problems (gain mode). Or by tackling existing problems, for new customers (expand mode). Or by tackling new problems for existing customers (extend mode). Or perhaps by tackling whole new problems for new customers (reinvent mode).

ReadGrowth Matrix In A Nutshell

Comparable Analysis Framework

comparable-company-analysis
A comparable company analysis is a process that enables the identification of similar organizations to be used as a comparison to understand the business and financial performance of the target company. To find comparables you can look at two key profiles: the business and financial profile. From the comparable company analysis it is possible to understand the competitive landscape of the target organization.

ReadComparable Analysis Framework In A Nutshell

Business Model Canvas

business-model-canvas
The business model canvas is a framework proposed by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur in Busines Model Generation enabling the design of business models through nine building blocks comprising: key partners, key activities, value propositions, customer relationships, customer segments, critical resources, channels, cost structure, and revenue streams.

ReadBusiness Model Canvas In A Nutshell

Business Experimentation 

business-experimentation
Business experiments help entrepreneurs test their hypotheses. Rather than define the problem by making too many hypotheses, a digital entrepreneur can formulate a few assumptions, design experiments, and check them against the actions of potential customers. Once measured, the impact, the entrepreneur, will be closer to define the problem.

ReadBusiness Experimentation

Speed Reversibility

decision-making-matrix

The speed-reversibility Matrix, by FourWeekMBA will help you understand how to allocate the resources based on the worst-case-scenario-test.

ReadSpeed-Reversibility Matrix

Blue Ocean

blue-ocean-strategy
A blue ocean is a strategy where the boundaries of existing markets are redefined, and new uncontested markets are created. At its core, there is value innovation, for which uncontested markets are created, where competition is made irrelevant. And the cost-value trade-off is broken. Thus, companies following a blue ocean strategy offer much more value at a lower cost for the end customers.

ReadBlue Ocean Strategy

BCG Matrix

bcg-matrix
In the 1970s, Bruce D. Henderson, founder of the Boston Consulting Group, came up with The Product Portfolio (aka BCG Matrix, or Growth-share Matrix), which would look at a successful business product portfolio based on potential growth and market shares. It divided products into four main categories: cash cows, pets (dogs), question marks, and stars.

Read moreBCG Matrix

AIDA Model

aida-model
AIDA stands for attention, interest, desire, and action. That is a model that is used in marketing to describe the potential journey a customer might go through before purchasing a product or service. The AIDA model helps organizations focus their efforts when optimizing their marketing activities based on the customers’ journeys.

Read moreAIDA Model

Pirate Funnel

pirate-metrics
Venture capitalist, Dave McClure, coined the acronym AARRR which is a simplified model that enables to understand what metrics and channels to look at, at each stage for the users’ path toward becoming customers and referrers of a brand.

Read morePirate Funnel

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Published by

Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"