Small business hyperbole rebounds off every corner of the World Wide Web, but it’s particularly strong when it comes to planning advice: “Business plans are the roadmap to success.” “They are a glimpse into your business’s future.” “Writing a business plan is the most important thing you’ll do as an aspiring entrepreneur.”
And in many ways, these snappy phrases are true – your business plan is a beautiful thing. A well thought-out strategy helps you brainstorm and troubleshoot and put your wildest dreams to the test. It not only helps you plan your entrepreneurial path, but also teaches you to walk it. A business plan readies your company for success.
But how do you get from ideation to execution? Direct Capital has gathered some of our favorite resources – 53, in fact – that teach you to strategize, outline, plan and perfect your business plan. So whether you’re looking to attract investors or just to brainstorm your future, this list will get you there.
Table of Contents:
Business Planning Articles
When you’re hunting the web for something easily digestible – a 5-minute read or a quick article for your morning commute – these business planning articles and blog posts will get your creative juices flowing.
We kick off the list with the most basic of the basic: what is a business plan, anyway? Tim Berry’s excellent intro walks you through four simple steps: who needs a business plan; how to choose the right kind of business plan; key components to your strategy; and how to leverage your plan for growth.
Once you’ve got the basics down, there’s no better second resource than the Small Business Association’s (SBA) business plan headquarters. Ten in-depth articles take you from executive summary to making your business plan unique – and everything in between.
It’s easy to get intimidated by the idea of writing your plan, but that’s really not necessary. This no-nonsense article provides such an excellent (and rapid-fire) overview of what’s what in business plan writing, you’ll be itching to start typing before you even finish reading.
So you want the inside scoop not on ho-hum business plans, but on award-winning, money-earning strategies that get things done? Click on over for the secret(s).
Armed with the secret sauce to get-it-done business plans, this article takes you through the next step: prepping to actually put your strategy to words. You’ll enjoy the slideshow, which somehow manages to make definitions and hard facts into an appealing presentation.
No business list would be complete without a little help from Forbes, and here’s one of our favorite contributions from the Big Daddy. This thorough checklist runs more than skin deep, touching on things like how to develop customer profiles and do market research.
One of the most useful tools in business plan writing is a template or outline (check them out below), and this gem from Business News Daily outlines the outline – the major components of an effective business plan.
Startups seeking capital stand to benefit hugely from a properly prepped business plan. This article, courtesy of Start Up Donut, does an excellent job of breaking your strategy into 11 different sections and multiple sub-sections.
An oldie but goodie from Harvard Business School, this article likens a good business plan to a well-baited mousetrap: in other words, the perfect lure for deep-pocketed investors. Learn some strategy tricks from the pros.
By now, you understand the basic elements you should include in your business plan. But did you also know that there are different types of plans? Work your way through standard plans, streamlined strategies for startups, and the varying internal uses for your business plan.
Uh oh, have you made one of these serious strategy mistakes? Learn about common entrepreneurial errors, like idea inflation and cash flow casualness – and then learn how to remedy them.
If you need a little polish for your elevator pitch, Bplans is back with an incredibly thorough, well-researched guide. You’ll learn the difference between angel funding and venture capitalism, seven components to include in your pitch, and how to handle potential investors’ unexpected questions.
Entrepreneur is one of the small business owner’s greatest resources, so it’s no surprise that they’ve provided a stellar introduction to business plans. If you don’t feel 100% confident in your strategy, give this one a read.
With a title like that, how can you help but click? Forbes dishes up 10 solid points to include in a business plan that will trail blaze your way to success.
eBooks on Writing a Business Plan
If you’ve never written a business plan before, or if you’ve never written a good business plan before, then you’d probably benefit from a full-length planning eBook. The books below touch on many of the same topics as the articles above, but go into much greater depth to prepare you for writing a strong and winning business plan.
Entrepreneur has compiled a 31-page eBook, available as an embedded PDF or for free download, on startup business plans. Thanks to its extended length, this rich resource not only fills you in on the basics, but also gives helpful tips like maximum word counts and what to write last.
One of the bestselling business plan eBooks on Amazon, the Right-Brain Business Plan is also available in electronic formats. The goal of this publication is to make business planning less boring – and to spark your creativity, so you can easily write about what you love.
Tim Berry’s The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan is another bestseller and is available, completely free, to read on Bplan. The secret of this book is that it revitalizes the traditional business plan format to fit today’s world – and your budding business.
This free PDF eBook is 31 pages, a good length to get you started without diving into overwhelming detail. The promise: by the time you finish the book, you’ll have digested enough concentrated information to reach your goal of putting your business vision to words.
This 115-page gem offers a very thorough introduction to writing a solid business plan. While the first few pages are dedicated to the OfficeReady business plan software, the bulk of the guide explores topics like your executive summary, production plan, and financial analysis.
You’ll have to swap your info for this eBook, but the payoff is good: in exchange for your email, you’ll receive an eBook and worksheet on business plans for IT. As the promo says, writing a business plan won’t change your biz overnight, but it will change how you view your business.
This is another eBook you’ll have to fork over your email to get, but again it’s a good exchange. The Business Plans eBook helps you understand the methods and mechanics behind business planning before jumping into your SWOT analysis, strategizing, and business plan writing.
This $5.99 eBook comes from industry leader Business Plan Mentor, and is packed with step-by-step advice to writing your business plan. We appreciate that the book includes unique information and is not just a compilation of blog posts (although you might like them, too).
Videos & Tutorials on Business Planning
Visual learners, unite! These business planning videos, webinars, and tutorials cover both the basics and the nitty gritty details of strategizing, all in an easy-to-absorb visual format.
The SBA is back with a 30-minute video course on the importance of business planning. Though basic, this quick and dirty tutorial will help you define your business and describe the various components of your strategy, before linking you to sample plans and other resources to get you started.
This online workshop aims to simplify the business planning process in six easy steps. In addition to teaching you how to write a solid business plan, the workshop explores general business topics, like how to set goals, develop an action plan, measure your success, and adjust your efforts to align better with your goals.
Available from LivePlan, this hour-long webinar recording dips into the nuts and bolts of writing a dynamic business plan – and shows you how to pitch your idea, to boot!
Developed in conjunction with the SBA, this PaloAlto course from Tim Berry dishes up 65 slides on business planning. Since the target audience for the course is entrepreneurs and small business owners, it’s tailored to meet your unique needs.
Business Plan Templates & Outlines
Two of the greatest and most useful tools in your business plan-writing tool belt are outlines and templates. Outlines are a rough overview of the information you should include in your plan, while templates provide the organization and format to present that information.
27. Business Plan Toolkit (PDF)
This 22-page PDF is a business planner’s dream, prompting with questions and fill-in-the-blanks on every aspect of business. Once you’ve answered all the questions – which, in their unassuming format may dial-down the pressure of business plan writing – you’ll be well prepared to write your formal plan. We also love the financial planning spreadsheets at the end.
We appreciate that Bplan asks, “should you actually use a business plan template?”, because it’s a great question. If you decide the answer is yes, you can exchange your email for a free download of their excellent template.
Even if you don’t want to download a template, Bplan’s sample business plans are an incredible resource for entrepreneurs who need a bit of inspiration. Sectioned into categories – Restaurant, Cafe, and Bakery; Medical and Health Care business plan sample Medical and Health Care; Retail and Online Store; and Services – these samples will give you a solid foundation for writing your own dynamite business plan.
Forecasting cash flow is an important aspect to your business plan, but it’s one that many non-numbers people fail to understand or execute well. Futurpreneur’s handy cash flow template steps in to help, making it easy to crunch the numbers and eventually apply for startup capital.
31. Fill-in-the-Blanks Business Plan Outline (PDF)
Here’s another well thought-out business plan outline, filled with in-depth questions that will really get you thinking. We love the resources at the end of the sheet: a projected income statement, cash flow spreadsheet and other financial tools, a break-even analysis, a timetable, and even a list of very useful definitions.
This business plan outline is less fill-in-the-blank and more walk-you-through than others on our list. Each section dishes up an explanation and offers samples of business plans done right, so if you prefer to be led by example, you’ll appreciate this resource.
33. Business Plan Outline #2 (PDF)
This outline is the skeleton of your business plan – a summary of your brainchild, divided into an easy-to-follow format. We really like the reminder that you’re not pursuing a Pulitzer Prize with your plan: elegant prose is a lovely thing, but the goal of your business plan is to fuel entrepreneurial success.
If you’re ready to jump into outlining your business plan and prefer the no-nonsense approach, this is it. You don’t have to fill in any blanks or mark up any spreadsheets: this outline lays it out in simple format and invites you to do with it what you will.
Like #34, this business plan outline doesn’t provide fill-in-the-blanks – but it does offer prompts in the form of questions. If you just need a subtle reminder of what to include in your plan, we think this is just the right balance between not enough and too much help.
Bplans serves up another goodie with its business plan outline, which details each and every section you should include in your strategy. Even better, most sections and even some subsections are hyperlinked to more in-depth articles, so detailed info is never more than a click away.
Business Plan Software
When you’re ready to actually get writing, you may want to consider a robust, fully featured business plan writing tool. If you’ve never written a plan before, or have experience but don’t feel comfortable flying solo, these programs will help you through the process – and deliver a professional, well-structured final product.
This desktop-based business plan software makes strategizing easy. Base your plan off one of 9,000+ industry profiles and follow the inbuilt steps to create a solid, well presented business plan. And if numbers aren’t your thing, don’t worry: Business Plan Pro does all the math for you.
- Available as desktop software for Windows
- Easy-to-create, error-free financial forecasts
- Includes 500+ sample business plans
Cost: $99.95 (Standard edition) or $159.95 (Premier edition)
The online version of Business Plan Pro, this cloud-based tool is an incredible resource for developing a plan to grow your business. You can work out a detailed strategy, track your progress, and even prepare your business plan to attract funding. And as with the desktop version, the software does all the math.
- Available as a web-based tool for any platform
- Feature-rich dashboards offer at-a-glance insights
- Easily compare your performance to competitors
Cost: From $11.66 per month
If you’re looking for a free solution, look no further than Business Plan Writer. This online tool, available from Futurpreneur, requires only registration to start writing your strategy. We love that it’s a dynamic writer, so you can customize to your heart’s content.
- Available as a web-based tool for any platform
- Drop-down menus easily switch between sections
- Customize your plan’s components to your specific needs
The cloud-based Enloop serves up templates, samples, and other useful tools for creating your business plan. The service, which offers a free version, also supports financial information import, so your final plan is as professional and accurate as if a pro had prepared it.
- Available as a web-based tool for any platform
- In-built features, like spell-check, PDF export, and multi-currency support
- Up to 3 years of financial forecasting
Cost: Free simple account; Basic to Professional versions, from $6-$39.95 per month
Plan Write for Business offers a simple, no-nonsense interface and step-by-step wizard to help you create a winning business plan. It is designed specifically for small business, and includes professional consulting from a wide range of entrepreneurial fields, including personal services, retail, and construction.
- Designed for Windows 8, 7, Vista or XP
- Extensive library of sample business plans
- Supports MS Word (doc export), MS Excel (format financial) and MS PowerPoint (create presentation)
If you’re looking for a no-fuss solution to business planning, PlanMagic may be your answer. This software offers industry-specific solutions, so you’ll never have to weed through non-applicable prompts and fields. It’ll calculate your financials, create illustrative visuals, and even export your data to MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
- Available for MS Windows Vista, 7, and 8 32/64-bit; requires MS Office 2002(XP)/2003/2007/2010/2013/365
- Download the version specific to your industry
- Easily export your plan to MS Word, Excel or PowerPoint
Cost: $75 (non-expiring license)
This simple software doesn’t sport all the bells and whistles of other programs, but it does offer utility at a great price. iPlanner makes it easy to import/export your financial information, calculate future returns, and generate visual charts to support your projections.
- Available for Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Open Source programs
- Industry-specific templates make it easy to create your business plan
- Mentoring available for an additional fee
Cost: From $22
If financials aren’t your strong suit, then Ultimate Business Planner is your best business friend. We love that this program jumps straight into the financials, so you can see whether your idea is feasible – or tweak it to become more profitable. Once you’ve developed a viable plan, browse sample plans and get started on writing your roadmap.
- Available for Windows 98/2000/NT/XP/Vista/Windows 7/Windows 8
- Start with your business plan financials, so you don’t waste time developing a non-viable idea
- In-built expert advice to guide you through the process
Cost: From $99
BizPlanBuilder® was created with the goal of simplifying even the most complicated, or off-the-wall, or non-conventional business ideas out there. Its intuitive interface makes it easy to create a custom template and flesh out your ideas, build solid financial forecasts, and present your plan in a professional package.
- Available as Windows software, or as an online version for any platform
- Built-in, feature-rich financial tools
- Focus on securing financing or an SBA loan
Built for small businesses, Business PlanMaker™ Professional is plan-writing software that supports professional document-creation, team collaboration, and industry-specific business writing tools and features. You won’t get the same expert advice or in-depth prompts as other options, so we recommend this program for entrepreneurs who are relatively comfortable with the plan-writing process.
- Available for Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7
- Multi-license option for team collaboration
- Export your business plan to PDF or MS Word
Cost: From $39.99
Quickplan® offers an industry-specific – choose from Restaurant and Bar, Pizza, Coffee Shop, Salon and Day Spa, Bed and Breakfast, and other options – solution to business plan-writing. The interface is basic and you won’t find many prompts or other guidance, but you will appreciate this easy-to-use software and its robust, real-world business plan examples from successful companies.
- Available for Windows
- Work within your industry-specific version, tailored to your unique requirements
- Review real plans from successful businesses
This comprehensive business-planning tool is built for first-timers, so you can expect robust features, skilled guidance, and plenty of calculators and charts to speed your preparations and polish your final product. The tool allows you to customize and tweak its templates to suit your unique needs.
- Available for Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000/XP/Vista/Win7
- Business plan wizard guides you step by step
- Hundreds of business plan examples to inspire you
Cost: Free Demo; Buy for $129.95-$229.95
The Business Plan Shop offers planning software for small businesses and especially for first-time plan-writers. The tool makes it easy to create financial forecasts, write your business plan based on solid examples, and even develop a presentation that will win over investors.
- Available as a web-based tool for any platform
- Up to 3 years of financial forecasting (P&L, balance sheet and cash flow statements)
- Optional consulting for a pro-written business plan
Cost: Free Trial; 12-month subscription for $19.75
Business Planning Websites
These gems are so information-rich, that while they offer up plenty of resources, articles, blog posts, and eBooks, we couldn’t pick just a few to include in specific categories. Our advice? Grab a cup of coffee and hunker down for an hour (or ten) to browse, bookmark, and save your favorites for later.
BusinessPlans.org covers all aspects of creating a business and developing your business plan. One of its greatest features is the sheer volume of resources available: jump down this rabbit hole to peruse sample business plans, planning guidelines, and web directory of business planning resources.
The Canada Business Network could be likened to a farther-north version of the Small Business Association, and as such offers up excellent resources for entrepreneurs. Their section on business planning is incredibly information rich, covering everything from why you need a business plan, to how to grow your established business.
BizLaunch is a self-taught businessperson’s dream, with an awesome library of business planning videos, webinars, bootcamps, advice, free tools and more. Be warned, all ye who enter here: once you click, it’s hard to close this browser window.
idea2delivery offers free lectures as well as paid entrepreneurial training: e-courses and videos that’ll teach you the ins-and-outs of business financials, marketing, sales, accounting, and more. In other words, the skills and knowledge you need to create a viable business plan.
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