A good business plan is the foundation of any company, large or small. It serves as a realistic road map for your goals and what it will take to reach them on time. Business plans can be as long as short as you need–and as formal as a detailed document split up by headings, or as informal as notes jotted down on a legal pad. Whatever your individual style, though, there are six key pieces of information to include.

1. The business concept itself.

What’s your target industry? What product or service will you offer? What is the landscape like as far as competition goes, and what will make your business a success in comparison?
2. Your business strategy: general and specific.

Sketch out an overview of your goals, then get into the specific details of how you plan to achieve them. Specifics could include information about where to set up shop, management style, target employee count, inventory needs, and so on.
3. Information about your product(s) or service(s).

Here’s your chance to start honing your sales pitch. Include as much information about your product/service as you can, and make sure to identify what key factors set you apart from competitors in your area.
4. Personnel backgrounds.

Employees can make or break your company, so your hiring choices are critical. Your business plan should include information about each person you’re hiring–particularly what kind of experience they have and how they’ll benefit your company.
5. How you’ll market the business.

In this section of the plan, you’ll want to put a lot of thought into understanding your target demographics. Who is your ideal customer and what will you do to attract them? What marketing methods will you use: SEO, networking, sales calls?
6. A financial plan.

What kind of funds are you expecting to need, and how will you acquire them? Along with your business plan, you should create projected financial statements to help you figure out the numbers.

When writing your business plan, be brutally realistic. Don’t write about how your business would work in an ideal scenario; acknowledge the real-world problems you might encounter. Ultimately, by the time you finish your plan, you should be ready to start your business and clear-eyed about how to do so.

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