In the Products and Services section of your business plan, you will clearly describe--yep--the products and services your business will provide.

Keep in mind that highly detailed or technical descriptions are not necessary and definitely not recommended. Use simple terms and avoid industry buzzwords so your readers can easily understand.

On the other hand, describing how the company's products and services will differ from the competition is critical. So is describing why your products and services are needed if no market currently exists. (For example, before there was Federal Express, overnight delivery was a niche business served by small companies. FedEx had to define the opportunity for a new, large-scale service and justify why customers needed--and would actually use--that service.)

Patents, copyrights, and trademarks you own or have applied for should also be listed in this section.

Depending on the nature of your business, your Products and Services section could be very long or relatively short. If your business is product-focused, you will want to spend more time describing those products.

If you plan to sell a commodity item and the key to your success lies in, say, competitive pricing, you probably don't need to provide significant product detail. Or if you plan to sell a commodity readily available in a variety of outlets, the key to your business may not be the commodity itself but your ability to market in a more cost-effective way than your competition.

But if you're creating a new product (or service), make sure you thoroughly explain the nature of the product, its uses, and its value, etc.--otherwise your readers will not have enough information to evaluate your business.

Key questions to answer:

  • Are products or services in development or existing (and on the market)?
  • What is the timeline for bringing new products and services to market?
  • What makes your products or services different? Are there competitive advantages compared with offerings from other competitors? Are there competitive disadvantages you will need to overcome? (And if so, how?)
  • Is price an issue? Will your operating costs be low enough to allow a reasonable profit margin?
  • How will you acquire your products? Are you the manufacturer? Do you assemble products using components provided by others? Do you purchase products from suppliers or wholesalers? If your business takes off, is a steady supply of products available?

In the cycling rental business example we've been using, products and services could be a relatively simple section to complete or it could be fairly involved. It depends on the nature of the products the company plans to rent to customers.

If Blue Mountain Cycling Rentals plans to market itself as a provider of high-end bikes, describing those bikes--and the sources for those bikes--is important, since "high-end cycling rentals" is intended to be a market differentiation. If the company plans to be the low-cost provider, then describing specific brands of equipment is probably not necessary.

Also, keep in mind that if a supplier runs out of capacity--or goes out of business altogether--you may not have a sufficient supply to meet your demand. Plan to set up multiple vendor or supplier relationships, and describe those relationships fully. 

Remember, the primary goal of your business plan is to convince you that the business is viable--and to create a road map for you to follow.

The Products and Services section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:

***

Product Description

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will provide a comprehensive line of bicycles and cycling equipment for all ages and levels of ability. Since the typical customer seeks medium-quality equipment and excellent services at competitive prices, we will focus on providing brands like Trek bikes, Shimano footwear, and Giro helmets. These manufacturers have a widespread reputation as mid- to high-level quality, unlike equipment typically found in the rental market.

The following is a breakdown of anticipated rental price points, per day and per week:

Bicycle $30 $120

Helmet $6 $30

(Etc.)

Notes:

  • Customers can extend the rental term online without visiting the store.
  • A grace period of two hours will be applied to all rentals; customers who return equipment within that two-hour period will not be charged an additional fee.

Competition

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will have clear advantages over its primary competitors, the bike shops located in Harrisonburg, Virginia:

  1. Newer equipment inventory with higher perceived quality
  2. Price points 15 percent below the competition
  3. Online renewals offering greater convenience
  4. A liberal return grace period that will reinforce our reputation as a customer-friendly rental experience

Future Products

Expansion will allow us to move product offerings into new equipment sales. We will also explore maintenance and fitting services, leveraging our existing maintenance staff to provide value-added services at a premium price.

(And so on...)

***

When you draft your Products and Services section, think of your reader as a person who knows little to nothing about your business. Be clear and to the point.

Think of it this way: The Products and Services section answers the "what" question for your business. Make sure you fully understand the "what" factor; you may run the business, but your products and services are its lifeblood.

Now let's take a look at the next major section of your business plan: the Market Opportunities.

More in this series:

  1. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Key Concepts
  2. How to Write a Great Business Plan: the Executive Summary
  3. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Overview and Objectives
  4. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Products and Services
  5. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Market Opportunities
  6. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Sales and Marketing
  7. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Competitive Analysis
  8. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Operations
  9. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Management Team
  10. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Financial Analysis