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BUSINESS PLANS

How to Structure a Business Plan

How to write a business plan that will help you obtain financing, arrange strategic alliances, attract key employees, and boost your confidence.
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Though many successful companies have been started without the benefit of a formal business plan (see "Seat of the Pants," October 2002), it can be an essential factor in the birth and growth of your company. A good business plan will help you obtain financing, arrange strategic alliances, attract key employees, and boost your confidence. It sells your company to the world and gives you direction as the world answers back.

From the table of contents to the financial tables, a business plan covers a lot of ground. How can you make your executive summary stand out? How much detail is appropriate when outlining your marketing strategy? What is the best way to present the financial projections? Here are Inc.com's best resources to help you create each part of your business plan.

Getting Started

Is Your Business Idea Feasible?
Making a critical evaluation of your business concept at an early stage will allow you to discover, address, and correct any fatal flaws before investing time in preparing your business plan.
Telling Your Story
No matter what type of business you plan to start, when your story is complete it will be an important part of the risk management process and a key to effectively understanding your business and its critical success factors.
Developing Effective Vision and Mission Statements
Vision and mission provide direction for a new or small firm, without which it is difficult to develop a cohesive plan.
Simplified Start-up Plan
Before you do anything else, you need a simple business plan. Here's a checklist to get you going.

Mastering the Basics

Creating Your Business Plan
In a nutshell, here are the areas you'll need to address in a business plan to offer prospective lenders and investors a complete view of your business, as well as provide you with a tool you can use to start and run your company.
The Basics of Business Plans: Sell, Sell, Sell
When viewed as a selling document, your business plan takes on a new meaning. Here, David E. Gumpert, author of How to Really Create a Successful Business Plan, provides four compelling reasons for writing a business plan.
The Bulletproof Business Plan
Build a plan that stands up to even the worst economy with these tips.
The Finer Points of a Business Plan
Gumpert gives a brief overview of what information every business plan should contain.
Filling in Your Plan: What to Say Where
Once you understand the skeletal outline of your business plan, you need to know what to say in each section. Gumpert fills in the details.

Company Description

Cover All the Bases in Your Business Description
Describing your business in the plan may sound deceptively simple. In reality, a nuanced company explanation is needed and will serve as a strong foundation for your entire plan.

Executive Summary

Executive Summary as a Guiding Light
It's not an abstract, preface, or introduction, but the executive summary is one of the most critical parts of any business plan. Gumpert argues that an effective executive summary should be the entire plan in miniature.
All Summary, No Substance
Through this annotated example, learn what not to write in your executive summary.

Market Analysis

How Do I Research My Industry?
Where can you find specific data that applies to your industry and its market? Here are a few places to start.
Hitting the Market
To be successful, you have to know your potential customers inside out. One entrepreneur reflects on the essentials of market research.
Segment the Target Market in Your Business Plan
It's a big market out there, so how can you break it down for your business plan? Learn the simple principles of segmenting your market and drilling down to a more precise view of your target audience.
Write a Marketing Analysis That Will Simply Dazzle
After you've crunched the data and analyzed the market, you need a succinct and clear approach to best communicate that information in your plan. This article will help you decide what to include in your marketing section and offers a step-by-step format for doing so.

Competitive Analysis

Competitive Research on a Shoestring
You can learn a lot by researching online and targeting the right people.
Get a Local Look at Your Competition
You can gather endless information regarding potential competition by immersing yourself into the Internet. However, the best strategy is to stay local and get a firsthand look at them.

Financials

Making It All Add Up
Even if you find finances intimidating or tedious, they're critical. The financial section of a business plan is not the time to add creative flourishes; instead, this author advises, stick to a conventional approach.
Persuasive Projections
Predicting the future is hard. But when you're making financial projections, that's exactly what you need to do. You can avoid some of the most common mistakes by following this list of dos and don'ts.

Operations

Personnel and Business Plans: Making the Most of Your Management Team
It's not just what you're doing in your business, but who will be doing it. In the management section of your plan, you'll need to describe your organizational structure and put your team in the best possible light.
Tackling Technology in Your Business Plan
A business plan needs to not only explain what you'll be doing; it also needs to explain how you expect to do it, including the technology you'll use. Here, small-business expert Rhonda Abrams explains how to structure a technology plan.

Presenting the Plan

Finding the Perfect Pitch
Take a lesson from these three rookies as they prepare for the presentation of a lifetime.
Elements of a Winning Pitch
A presentation to potential investors in your business—to family, friends, or angels—should include most of these elements.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Presenters
Entrepreneurs learn pretty quickly that making a verbal pitch to investors is very different from submitting a written business plan. Here are seven good practices gleaned from a venture-capital boot camp.
Pitches We Love—or How Not to Find Capital
Learn from the confusing pitches one investor has received from small businesses looking for capital.
Powerful Presentations
Rhonda Abrams shares nine strategies for giving powerful presentations.
Don't Bore Your Audience to Death
Guy Kawaski offers some good advice on how to present your business idea to would-be investors.

Business Plan Competitions as Testing Grounds

Getting Money for Good Ideas
Business-plan competitions tend to draw cutthroat b-school students. But entrepreneurs with lofty social goals are also increasingly entering the fray, and winning.
How to Win Big and Get Ahead Fast
Once academic exercises for eggheads, college business-plan contests now offer competitors the chance to win sizeable chunks of cash and launch a business. No surprise: Entrepreneurs have begun to horn in on the action.
What the Judges Look For...
What's going to put your business plan in the winner's circle? Here's what the judges look for when choosing winning business plans.
The Best Business Plan on the Planet
Go behind the scenes with one of the judges at Moot Corp., a world-renowned business-plan contest hosted by the University of Texas at Austin.



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