Though many successful companies have been started without the benefit of a formal business plan (see "Seat of the Pants," Inc. 500 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. A business plan 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.

The Plan's Purpose

Seat of the Pants
Everyone says that before you launch a company, you've got to write a business plan. So how come so many Inc. 500 CEOs skipped that sober exercise?
A Plan for All Seasons
A carefully crafted business plan can be an important sales tool for the life of the business. David E. Gumpert, author of How to Really Create a Successful Business Plan, offers several ways in which a business plan can serve 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, Gumpert provides four compelling reasons for writing a business plan.

Mastering the Basics

The Bulletproof Business Plan
Build a business plan that stands up to even the worst economy with these tips.
Business Plan Outline
Begin by sorting out what topics should be covered in each section of the business plan. Consult this outline of a complete business plan for answers.
The Finer Points of a Business Plan
David E. Gumpert, author of How to Really Create a Successful Business Plan, gives a brief overview of what information every business plan should contain.
Pointers on Putting Together Your Business Plan
Ready to tackle your business plan? Here are some basic but essential strategies to keep in mind as you begin work on your business plan.
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. David E. Gumpert, author of How to Really Create a Successful Business Plan, fills in the details.

Crafting a Winning Company Description

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

Writing a First-Class 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. David E. Gumpert argues that an effective executive summary should be the entire business plan in miniature.
All Summary, No Substance
Through this annotated example, learn what not to write in your executive summary.

Creating a Comprehensive Marketing Section

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 business plan. This article will help you decide what to include in your marketing section and offers a step-by-step format for doing so.

Positioning Your Entrepreneurial Team

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 business plan, you'll need to describe your organizational structure and put your team in the best possible light.

Getting the Financials Right

Making It All Add Up: The Financial Section of a Business Plan
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.

Consider Including a Tech Plan

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 section for your business plan.