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Harvard Business School

Write a business plan

Public Web sites:

Small business administration.

The "Small Business Planner" section has a specific page of resources to guide you when creating this essential component for getting your business started.

Start-Up Resource Center

An Inc. Magazine Web site offering a useful and thorough how-to guide with advice and ideas on Structuring a Business Plan .

Additional information on Business Plans is available at the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship. There is also a classic article written by Professor Bill Sahlman on How to Write a Great Business Plan .

More From Forbes

How to create a business plan.

Business plans have long been a critical document for new businesses. Are they still relevant? If so, what best practices and data can help you create a winning document that will help your business get the funding you need and ensure your venture lasts?

Before digging into the best way to craft a business plan to help you crush it, and spending hours or numerous dollars on commissioning one, do you even need one?

A decade ago anyone you approached with a business idea without a plan would have laughed and shooed you away. Even your friends and family, or the most aggressive angel investors. Things have changed.

As I describe in my book, The Art of Startup Fundraising , a business plan is still a must for some scenarios and some reasons. Yet, some may also think that pitch decks and clever presentations may displace them. Every entrepreneur and startup company needs a plan. Before deciding exactly what that looks like and how to create it, there are some critical questions to answer and factors to understand.

What’s a Business Plan for?

Just because it is the status quo should never be a line in the vocabulary of a startup founder today. Traditional business plans can be big beasts of a project that suck time, money and mojo at a vital moment. Don’t do it unless you know why and what you are trying to achieve with it.

In fact, Silicon Valley angel investor, VC and founder of 500 Startups, David McClure says “don’t write a business plans.” We’ll show you what he does want to see if you hope to get a funding check from him in a moment. Yet, the point is that most aspiring business owners aren’t even trying to match up their goals with what they think they are supposed to be doing.

You should have a plan in order to get yourself organized and to ensure you have some type of viable commercial potential. You have focus and hopefully aren’t going to run out of money or starve before you get going. If that’s all you need, and you don’t plan to raise money, apply for loans and don’t intend on bringing in partners, then you certainly don’t need a 25lb manuscript. Keep it simple. In fact, Brian Chesky (founder of Airbnb) is famous for his one-page business plan for global domination.

If you are planning to go to a local bank for a business loan, or are approaching your sphere of influence for backing who you know is accustomed to seeing legit business plans, then you know you probably need to create something that they understand in a format they are comfortable with.

If your purpose is to raise funding, and your startup isn’t going to go anywhere without, then make sure anything you take time out to create is going to relate in today’s fundraising environment.

Business Plans vs. Pitch Decks

Business plans and pitch decks are two different things. They have a lot of crossover factors. Yet, one is for presenting and specifically for getting funding from angels and VCs. The other is more organizational an internal in nature.

If you want to get funded by David McClure, then he says he wants to see “a functional product that people are using. We look for functional prototypes and customer development and most importantly, scalability. Can you scale customer acquisition cheaply and measurably?”

In contrast with old school business plans McClure recommends:

Most of this you can cram into a pitch deck, at least with a good appendix.

Not long ago I covered the pitch deck template that was created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel ( see it here ) where the most critical slides are highlighted. Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M ( see it here )

Business Plans vs. Executive Summaries

An executive summary is a different document again. It is a smart tool and essential one to have as a cover for your business plan. This is especially true for those considering funding that involves commercial real estate or a SBA loan.

This is a brief 1-3 page document that sums up your business and plan, and gives viewers enough info to decide whether they want to see any more data or not. Like a pitch deck, it it’s good enough it can be sufficient to get lenders and investors to choose to work with you, and work through the details in the process.

Best Practices for Building a Brilliant Business Plan

What makes a great business plan?

Format, substance, and key data that viewers expect are all important. So is the time you spend on it, and when you do it.

When to Create a Business Plan

The big problem with business plans is that entrepreneurs often get bogged down in them. Getting lost in rehashing and dragging out a business plan for a year or more can cost your startup the optimal moment to get to market and the best funding opportunities. Too many founders have also tried to cram the equivalent of a business plan into a pitch deck, only to find it is a hindrance to getting the results they want.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) says “the real key to succeeding in business is being flexible and responsive to opportunities. Entrepreneurs often have to pivot their business once it becomes clear that their original customer is not the right customer, or when it turns out that their product or service fits better in an alternate market. Because of these realities, business plans written at the start end up nothing more than a fable.”

Additional stats from HBR show that:

According to Entrepreneur.com and Rule’s Book of Business Plans for Startups, founders should be considering these factors when creating their plan.

Fortunately, crafting a business plan has become much simpler today. There are plenty of data sources to back up assumptions and to complete research. There are plenty of great freelancers available online who can help handle time intensive parts of the process like research and formatting and interactive pro-formas.

There are even templates you can plug in and print so you don’t waste time figuring out what to include.

SCORE offers fillable worksheets covering these key pages in your business plan for your startup business:

The SBA (US Small Business Administration) offers templates for both traditional business plans and more modern lean startup business plans, with samples to view.

A business plan still plays a critical role in launching a profitable and sustainable venture today. New trends and the data show us that the best time to complete a robust plan may now come later in the journey than it used to. It is much more important to get started, test and secure funding first.

When it comes to business plan creation there are now more templates and streamlined formats that are being adjusted to meet today’s needs to accommodate faster moving, leaner startups. Just don‘t let this part of the process slow you down.

No matter how you do it, and who you’ll show your plan to, make sure to have someone with experience review it for you.

Alejandro Cremades

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18 Best Sample Business Plans & Examples to Help You Write Your Own

Clifford Chi

Published: December 01, 2022

Reading sample business plans is essential when you’re writing your own. As you explore business plan examples from real companies and brands, you’ll learn how to write one that gets your business off on the right foot, convinces investors to provide funding, and ensures your venture is sustainable for the long term.

Business plan sample: Image shows a hand writing a plan and a notepad.

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But what does a business plan look like? And how do you write one that is viable and convincing? Let's review the ideal business plan formal, then take a look at business plan samples you can use to inspire your own.

Business Plan Format

Ask any successful sports coach how they win so many games, and they’ll tell you they have a unique plan for every single game. The same logic applies to business. If you want to build a thriving company that can pull ahead of the competition, you need to prepare for battle before breaking into a market.

Business plans guide you along the rocky journey of growing a company. Referencing one will keep you on the path toward success. And if your business plan is compelling enough, it can also convince investors to give you funding.

With so much at stake, you might be wondering, "Where do I start? How should I format this?"

Typically, a business plan is a document that will detail how a company will achieve its goals.

Free Business Plan Template

Fill out the form to get your free template..

Most business plans include the following sections:

1. Executive Summary

The executive summary is arguably the most important section of the entire business plan. Essentially, it's the overview or introduction, written in a way to grab readers' attention and guide them through the rest of the business plan (which may be dozens or hundreds of pages long).

Most executive summaries include:

However, many of these topics will be covered in more detail later on in the business plan, so keep the executive summary clear and brief, including only the most important take-aways.

If you’re planning to start or expand a small business, preparing a business plan is still very crucial. The plan should include all the major factors of your business. You can check out this small business pdf to get an idea of how to create one for your business.

business plan sample: Executive Summary Example
  • What demographics will most likely need/buy your product or service?
  • What are the psychographics of this audience? (Desires, triggering events, etc.)
  • Why are your offerings valuable to them?

It can be helpful to build a buyer persona to get in the mindset of your ideal customers and be crystal clear on why you're targeting them.

5. Marketing Strategy

Here, you'll discuss how you'll acquire new customers with your marketing strategy. You might consider including information on:

  • The brand positioning vision and how you'll cultivate it
  • The goal targets you aim to achieve
  • The metrics you'll use to measure success
  • The channels and distribution tactics you'll use

It can help to already have a marketing plan built out to help you inform this component of your business plan.

6. Key Features and Benefits

At some point in your business plan, you'll review the key features and benefits of your products and/or services. Laying these out can give readers an idea of how you're positioning yourself in the market and the messaging you're likely to use . It can even help them gain better insight into your business model.

7. Pricing and Revenue

This is where you'll discuss your cost structure and various revenue streams. Your pricing strategy must be solid enough to turn a profit while staying competitive in the industry. For this reason, you might outline:

  • The specific pricing breakdowns per product or service
  • Why your pricing is higher or lower than your competition's
  • (If higher) Why customers would be willing to pay more
  • (If lower) How you're able to offer your products or services at a lower cost
  • When you expect to break even, what margins do you expect, etc?

8. Financials

This section is particularly informative for investors and leadership teams to determine funding strategies, investment opportunities, etc. According to Forbes , you'll want to include three main things:

  • Profit/Loss Statement - This answers the question of whether your business is currently profitable.
  • Cash Flow Statement - This details exactly how much cash is incoming and outgoing to provide insight into how much cash a business has on hand.
  • Balance Sheet - This outlines assets, liabilities, and equity, which gives insight into how much a business is worth.

While some business plans might include more or less information, these are the key details you'll want to include.

Keep in mind that each of these sections will be formatted differently. Some may be in paragraph format, while others will be in charts.

Sample Business Plan Templates

Now that you know what's included and how to format a business plan, let's review some templates.

1. HubSpot's One-Page Business Plan

Download a free, editable one-page business plan template..

The business plan linked above was created here at HubSpot and is perfect for businesses of any size — no matter how many strategies we still have to develop.

Fields such as Company Description, Required Funding, and Implementation Timeline gives this one-page business plan a framework for how to build your brand and what tasks to keep track of as you grow. Then, as the business matures, you can expand on your original business plan with a new iteration of the above document.

Why We Like It

This one-page business plan is a fantastic choice for the new business owner who doesn’t have the time or resources to draft a full-blown business plan. It includes all the essential sections in an accessible, bullet-point-friendly format. That way, you can get the broad strokes down before honing in on the details.

2. HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

Sample business plan: hubspot free editable pdf

6. Harvard Business Review’s “How to Write a Winning Business Plan”

Most sample business plans teach you what to include in your business plan, but this Harvard Business Review article will take your business plan to the next level — it teaches you the why and how behind writing a business plan.

With the guidance of Stanley Rich and Richard Gumpert, co-authors of “ Business Plans That Win: Lessons From the MIT Enterprise Forum ”, you'll learn how to write a convincing business plan that emphasizes the market demand for your product or service. You’ll also learn the financial benefits investors can reap from putting money into your venture rather than trying to sell them on how great your product or service is.

This business plan guide focuses less on the individual parts of a business plan, and more on the overarching goal of writing one. For that reason, it’s one of our favorites to supplement any template you choose to use. Harvard Business Review’s guide is instrumental for both new and seasoned business owners.

7. HubSpot’s Complete Guide to Starting a Business

If you’re an entrepreneur, you know writing a business plan is one of the most challenging first steps to starting a business. Fortunately, with HubSpot's comprehensive guide to starting a business, you'll learn how to map out all the details by understanding what to include in your business plan and why it’s important to include them. The guide also fleshes out an entire sample business plan for you.

If you need further guidance on starting a business, HubSpot's guide can teach you how to make your business legal, choose and register your business name, and fund your business. It will also give small business tax information and provide marketing, sales, and service tips.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through the process of starting a business, in addition to writing your business plan, with a high level of exactitude and detail. So if you’re in the midst of starting your business, this is an excellent guide for you. It also offers other resources you might need, such as market analysis templates.

8. Panda Doc’s Free Business Plan Template

sample business plan: Panda Doc

One of the major business expenses is marketing. How you handle your marketing reflects your company’s revenue. We included this business plan to show you how you can ensure your marketing team is aligned with your overall business plan to get results. The plan also shows you how to track even the smallest metrics of your campaigns, like ROI and payback periods instead of just focusing on big metrics like gross and revenue.

Fintech startup, LiveFlow, allows users to sync real-time data from its accounting services, payment platforms, and banks into custom reports. This eliminates the task of pulling reports together manually, saving teams time and helping automate workflows.

When it came to including marketing strategy into its business plan, LiveFlow created a separate marketing profit and loss statement (P&L) to track how well the company was doing with its marketing initiatives. This is a great approach, allowing businesses to focus on where their marketing dollars are making the most impact.

“Using this framework over a traditional marketing plan will help you set a profitable marketing strategy taking things like CAC, LTV, Payback period, and P&L into consideration,” explains LiveFlow co-founder, Lasse Kalkar .

Having this information handy will enable you to build out your business plan’s marketing section with confidence. LiveFlow has shared the template here . You can test it for yourself.

2. Lula Body

Business plan example: Lula body

This fictional business plan for an art supply store includes everything one might need in a business plan: an executive summary, a company summary, a list of services, a market analysis summary, and more. Due to its comprehensiveness, it’s an excellent example to follow if you’re opening a brick-and-mortar store and need to get external funding to start your business .

One of its most notable sections is its market analysis summary, which includes an overview of the population growth in the business’ target geographical area, as well as a breakdown of the types of potential customers they expect to welcome at the store. This sort of granular insight is essential for understanding and communicating your business’s growth potential. Plus, it lays a strong foundation for creating relevant and useful buyer personas .

It’s essential to keep this information up-to-date as your market and target buyer changes. For that reason, you should carry out market research as often as possible to ensure that you’re targeting the correct audience and sharing accurate information with your investors.

6. Curriculum Companion Suites (CSS)

business plan examples: curriculum companion suites

If you’re looking for a SaaS business plan example, look no further than this business plan for a fictional educational software company called Curriculum Companion Suites. Like the business plan for the NALB Creative Center, it includes plenty of information for prospective investors and other key stakeholders in the business.

One of the most notable features of this business plan is the executive summary, which includes an overview of the product, market, and mission. The first two are essential for software companies because the product offering is so often at the forefront of the company’s strategy. Without that information being immediately available to investors and executives, then you risk writing an unfocused business plan.

It’s also essential to front-load your company’s mission if it explains your “Why?” In other words, why do you do what you do, and why should stakeholders care? This is an important section to include if you feel that your mission will drive interest in the business and its offerings.

7. Culina Sample Business Plan

sample business plan: Culina

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IMAGES

  1. Harvard Business Plan Template Pdf

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  2. Business Plan Template Wharton

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  3. Template Of Joint Business Plan

    business plan template harvard business review

  4. Harvard Business Plan Template Pdf

    business plan template harvard business review

  5. How To Write A Business Plan Harvard

    business plan template harvard business review

  6. Harvard business school business plan template by Niblett Barbara

    business plan template harvard business review

VIDEO

  1. BCG's Strategy Palette (or Strategic Style) Framework Matrix

  2. Strategic Planning by Harvard Business Review

  3. How to use a BASIC Business Plan Template by Paul Borosky, MBA

  4. How To Write A Business Plan In 2021 (STEP BY STEP)

  5. Founder Fundamentals (Fall 2022) : How to Write a Business Plan

  6. HOW TO WRITE A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS PLAN IN 16 MINUTES

COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Winning Business Plan

    How to Write a Winning Business Plan · Show the User's Benefit. It's easy even for experts to overlook this basic notion. · Find out the Market's Interest.

  2. Business plans

    The business plan admits the entrepreneur to the investment process. Without a plan furnished in advance, many investor groups won't even grant an interview

  3. How to Write a Great Business Plan

    Every seasoned investor knows that detailed financial projections for a new company are an act of imagination. Nevertheless, most business plans pour far

  4. The Explainer: How to Write a Great Business Plan

    A business plan that asks -- and answers -- the right questions is a powerful tool.

  5. How to Write a Great Business Plan

    Reprint 97409. Harvard Business Review ... ups, business plans rank no higher than 2–on a scale ... In the publishing business, for example, Inc. maga-.

  6. Write a business plan

    Review templates and tools for developing and pitching your business plan. ... The "Small Business Planner" section has a specific page of resources to

  7. Creating Business Plans By Harvard Business Review

    Today's big idea comes from Harvard Business Review and their 20-Minute Manager series. The series is designed to get you up to speed on

  8. How To Create A Business Plan

    Business plans have long been a critical document for new businesses. Are they still relevant? If so, what best practices and data can help

  9. How to Write a Great Business Plan (Harvard Business Review

    Print length. 72 pages · Language. English · Publisher. Harvard Business Review Press · Publication date. March 1, 2008 · Dimensions. 4.32 x 0.22 x 6.53 inches.

  10. 18 Best Sample Business Plans & Examples to Help You Write Your

    Reading sample business plans is essential when you're writing your own. As you explore business plan examples from real companies and