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How Do I Create a Business Plan?

Dear Lifehacker,

I've got a great idea for a new business, but I want to make sure that I set it up right and I might need some financing help to get started. What do I need to include in the business plan? Is there an easy way to create one?

Essential Elements of a Good Business Plan

Whether you decide to use business planning software (more on that in the next section), a template, or create your own informal document, good business plans include the same basic general information that cover all aspects of your business's operation and success:

For more in-depth discussion of each of these sections, see the Small Business Administration's Writing a Business Plan site. A very useful book for starting a small business in general is Small Time Operator by Bernard B. Kamoroff; it's a little light on the business planning instructions but for good reason:

Entire books are dedicated to the many considerations, formulas, options and everything else you can conceivably fit onto graphs, charts, schedules, computer screens, and densely packed pages, to create some mighty impressive plans indeed, some of which are quite valuable and some of which are utterly useless. Sometimes, too much "information" will work against you, unable to see the forest for the trees.

That's a big problem with writing a business plan or a marketing plan even; you can get so mired in the minute details that you either never get started on the business itself or you paint yourself into too narrow a corner. Think about including enough details so a stranger would be able to read your plan and know what separates it from a similar business and a creditor would be convinced your business would be successful, but not so exact that the plan seems inflexible (and unachievable). Business planning software can help:

Business Planning Apps

Business Plan Pro . This is the classic business planning software from Palto Alto that's been around for over two decades. At $99.95 for the basic version or $159.95 for the premier option (which has more funding/financial tools),

it's a little bit of an investment but worth it for the 500+ sample plans, easy forecasting, and financial calculators. Available for Windows only. (Palto Alto has a LivePlan webapp for $19.95 a month that works for Mac and Linux but you're probably better off using the free business plan webapps below).

Enloop . Create a free and customized business plan with Enloop on the fly, complete with an evaluation score from Enloop to see if your business idea is a good one. The simple interface takes you through entering all the basic business plan information and creates automated financial forecasts. The free edition gives you one plan with forecasting for the first three years and a PDF download. Upgrading to a more advanced package gives you more features like removing the Enloop logo from the document footer and financial ratio analysis comparisons.

SCORE Templates . Also check out some business planning templates and financial statements tools from this network of small business entrepreneurs who volunteer their time and expertise to help others get started.

PlanCruncher . One way to tell if you really have a killer start-up idea is if you can crunch your business plan into one page. PlanCruncher is a simple tool to write a one-page business plan with just the basic sections needed: Idea, Team, Product, Revenue, Funding. It's easy to read and concise, which might help you stand way above the other business plan creators.

There are loads of other web sites, apps, and books designed to help you create a winning business plan, but these are some of the easiest/best resources we've used.

The most important thing is to thoroughly map out your road to success, pass your plan out to as many people as possible to see what they think, and then go for it. Remember, too, that a business plan is a work in progress, so don't forget to revisit it every year or so to re-map your future. Good luck! Photo by plantoo47 .



You can follow or contact Melanie Pinola, the author of this post, on Twitter.

Category: Personal Finance

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