Reading sample business plans is essential when you’re writing your own. As you explore business plan examples from real companies and brands, you’ll learn how to write one that gets your business off on the right foot, convinces investors to provide funding, and ensures your venture is sustainable for the long term.
But what does a business plan look like? And how do you write one that is viable and convincing? Let’s review the ideal business plan formal, then take a look at business plan samples you can use to inspire your own.
Business Plan Format
Ask any successful sports coach how they win so many games, and they’ll tell you they have a unique plan for every single game. The same logic applies to business. If you want to build a thriving company that can pull ahead of the competition, you need to prepare for battle before breaking into a market.
Business plans guide you along the rocky journey of growing a company. Referencing one will keep you on the path toward success. And if your business plan is compelling enough, it can also convince investors to give you funding.
With so much at stake, you might be wondering, “Where do I start? How should I format this?”
Typically, a business plan is a document that will detail how a company will achieve its goals.
Most business plans include the following sections:
1. Executive Summary
The executive summary is arguably the most important section of the entire business plan. Essentially, it’s the overview or introduction, written in a way to grab readers’ attention and guide them through the rest of the business plan (which may be dozens or hundreds of pages long).
Most executive summaries include:
- Mission statement
- Company history and leadership
- Competitive advantage overview
- Financial projections
- Company goals
However, many of these topics will be covered in more detail later on in the business plan, so keep the executive summary clear and brief, including only the most important take-aways.
If you’re planning to start or expand a small business, preparing a business plan is still very crucial. The plan should include all the major factors of your business. You can check out this small business pdf to get an idea of how to create one for your business.
Check out our tips for writing an effective executive summary for more guidance.
2. Market Opportunity
This is where you’ll detail the opportunity in the market. Where is the gap in the current industry, and how will your product fill that gap?
In this section, you might include:
- The size of the market
- Current or potential market share
- Trends in the industry and consumer behavior
- Where the gap is
- What caused the gap
- How you intend to fill it
To get a thorough understanding of the market opportunity, you’ll want to conduct a TAM, SAM, and SOM analysis and perform market research on your industry. You may also benefit from creating a SWOT analysis to identify some of the insights for this section.
3. Competitive Landscape
Speaking of market share, you’ll need to create a section that shares details on who the top competitors are. After all, your customers likely have more than one provider to choose from, and you’ll want to understand exactly why they might choose one over another. Performing a competitive analysis can help you uncover:
- Industry trends that other providers may not be utilizing
- Strengths in your competition that may be obstacles to handle
- Weaknesses in your competition that may help you develop selling points
- The unique proposition you bring to the market that may resonate with customers
4. Target Audience
This section will describe who your customer segments are in detail. What is the demographic and psychographic information of your audience?
If your immediate answer is “everyone,” you’ll need to dig deeper. Ask yourself:
- What demographics will most likely need/buy your product or service?
- What are the psychographics of this audience? (Desires, triggering events, etc.)
- Why are your offerings valuable to them?
It can be helpful to build a buyer persona to get in the mindset of your ideal customers and be crystal clear on why you’re targeting them.
5. Marketing Strategy
Here, you’ll discuss how you’ll acquire new customers with your marketing strategy. You might consider including information on:
- The brand positioning vision and how you’ll cultivate it
- The goal targets you aim to achieve
- The metrics you’ll use to measure success
- The channels and distribution tactics you’ll use
It can help to already have a marketing plan built out to help you inform this component of your business plan.
6. Key Features and Benefits
At some point in your business plan, you’ll review the key features and benefits of your products and/or services. Laying these out can give readers an idea of how you’re positioning yourself in the market and the messaging you’re likely to use. It can even help them gain better insight into your business model.
7. Pricing and Revenue
This is where you’ll discuss your cost structure and various revenue streams. Your pricing strategy must be solid enough to turn a profit while staying competitive in the industry. For this reason, you might outline:
- The specific pricing breakdowns per product or service
- Why your pricing is higher or lower than your competition’s
- (If higher) Why customers would be willing to pay more
- (If lower) How you’re able to offer your products or services at a lower cost
- When you expect to break even, what margins do you expect, etc?
This section is particularly informative for investors and leadership teams to determine funding strategies, investment opportunities, etc. According to Forbes, you’ll want to include three main things:
- Profit/Loss Statement – This answers the question of whether your business is currently profitable.
- Cash Flow Statement – This details exactly how much cash is incoming and outgoing to provide insight into how much cash a business has on hand.
- Balance Sheet – This outlines assets, liabilities, and equity, which gives insight into how much a business is worth.
While some business plans might include more or less information, these are the key details you’ll want to include.
Keep in mind that each of these sections will be formatted differently. Some may be in paragraph format, while others will be in charts.
Sample Business Plan Templates
Now that you know what’s included and how to format a business plan, let’s review some templates.
The business plan linked above was created here at HubSpot and is perfect for businesses of any size — no matter how many strategies we still have to develop.
Fields such as Company Description, Required Funding, and Implementation Timeline gives this one-page business plan a framework for how to build your brand and what tasks to keep track of as you grow. Then, as the business matures, you can expand on your original business plan with a new iteration of the above document.
Why We Like It
This one-page business plan is a fantastic choice for the new business owner who doesn’t have the time or resources to draft a full-blown business plan. It includes all the essential sections in an accessible, bullet-point-friendly format. That way, you can get the broad strokes down before honing in on the details.
We also created a business plan template for entrepreneurs.
The template is designed as a guide and checklist for starting your own business. You’ll learn what to include in each section of your business plan and how to do it. There’s also a list for you to check off when you finish each section of your business plan.
Strong game plans help coaches win games and help businesses rocket to the top of their industries. So if you dedicate the time and effort required to write a viable and convincing business plan, you’ll boost your chances of success and even dominance in your market.
Why We Like It
This business plan kit is essential for the budding entrepreneur who needs a more extensive document to share with investors and other stakeholders. It not only includes sections for your executive summary, product line, market analysis, marketing plan, and sales plan, but it also provides hands-on guidance for filling out those sections.
This free template from LiveFlow aims to make it easy for businesses to create a financial plan and track their progress on a monthly basis. The P&L Budget versus Actual format allows users to track their revenue, cost of sales, operating expenses, operating profit margin, net profit, and more.
The summary dashboard aggregates all of the data put into the financial plan sheet and will automatically update when changes are made. Instead of wasting hours manually importing your data to your spreadsheet, LiveFlow can also help you to automatically connect your accounting and banking data directly to your spreadsheet, so your numbers are always up-to-date.
With the dashboard, you can view your runway, cash balance, burn rate, gross margins, and other metrics. Having a simple way to track everything in one place will make it easier to complete the financials section of your business plan.
Why We Like It
This is a fantastic template to track performance and alignment internally and to create a dependable process for documenting financial information across the business. It’s highly versatile and beginner-friendly. It’s especially useful if you don’t have an accountant on the team. (We always recommend you do, but for new businesses, having one might not be possible.)
If you want to reference an actual business plan while writing your own, ThoughtCo’s got you covered. It created a fictional company called Acme Management Technology and wrote an entire business plan for it.
Using its sample business plan as a guide while filling out your own will help you catch and include small yet important details in your business plan that you otherwise might not have noticed.
Why We Like It
This is a fantastic template for an existing business that’s strategically shifting directions. If your company has been around for a while, and you’re looking to improve your bottom line or revitalize your strategy, this is an excellent template to use and follow.
One of the more financially oriented sample business plans in this list, BPlan’s free business plan template dedicates many of its pages to your business’ financial plan and financial statements.
After filling this business plan out, your company will truly understand its financial health and the steps you need to take to maintain or improve it.
Why We Like It
We absolutely love this business plan template because of its ease-of-use and hands-on instructions (in addition to its finance-centric components). If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of writing an entire business plan, consider using this template to help you with the process.
Most sample business plans teach you what to include in your business plan, but this Harvard Business Review article will take your business plan to the next level — it teaches you the why and how behind writing a business plan.
With the guidance of Stanley Rich and Richard Gumpert, co-authors of “Business Plans That Win: Lessons From the MIT Enterprise Forum”, you’ll learn how to write a convincing business plan that emphasizes the market demand for your product or service. You’ll also learn the financial benefits investors can reap from putting money into your venture rather than trying to sell them on how great your product or service is.
Why We Like It
This business plan guide focuses less on the individual parts of a business plan, and more on the overarching goal of writing one. For that reason, it’s one of our favorites to supplement any template you choose to use. Harvard Business Review’s guide is instrumental for both new and seasoned business owners.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you know writing a business plan is one of the most challenging first steps to starting a business. Fortunately, with HubSpot’s comprehensive guide to starting a business, you’ll learn how to map out all the details by understanding what to include in your business plan and why it’s important to include them. The guide also fleshes out an entire sample business plan for you.
If you need further guidance on starting a business, HubSpot’s guide can teach you how to make your business legal, choose and register your business name, and fund your business. It will also give small business tax information and provide marketing, sales, and service tips.
Why We Like It
This comprehensive guide will walk you through the process of starting a business, in addition to writing your business plan, with a high level of exactitude and detail. So if you’re in the midst of starting your business, this is an excellent guide for you. It also offers other resources you might need, such as market analysis templates.
PandaDoc’s free business plan template is one of the more detailed and fleshed-out sample business plans on this list. It describes what you should include in each section, so you don’t have to come up with everything from scratch.
Once you fill it out, you’ll fully understand your business’ nitty-gritty details and how all of its moving parts should work together to contribute to its success.
Why We Like It
This template provides two things we love: comprehensiveness and in-depth instructions. Plus, it’s synced with PandaDoc’s e-signature software so that you and other stakeholders can sign it with ease. For that reason, we especially love it for those starting a business with a partner or with a board of directors.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several free business plan templates that can be used to inspire your own plan. Before you get started, you can decide what type of business plan you need — a traditional or lean start-up plan.
Then, you can review the format for both of those plans and view examples of what they might look like.
Why We Like It
We love both of the SBA’s templates because of their versatility. You can choose between two options and use the existing content in the templates to flesh out your own plan. Plus, if needed, you can get a free business counselor to help you along the way!
Top Business Plan Examples
Here are some completed business plan samples to get an idea of how to customize a plan for your business. We’ve chosen different types of business plan ideas to expand your imagination. Some are extensive, while others are fairly simple.
Take a look.
One of the major business expenses is marketing. How you handle your marketing reflects your company’s revenue. We included this business plan to show you how you can ensure your marketing team is aligned with your overall business plan to get results. The plan also shows you how to track even the smallest metrics of your campaigns, like ROI and payback periods instead of just focusing on big metrics like gross and revenue.
Fintech startup, LiveFlow, allows users to sync real-time data from its accounting services, payment platforms, and banks into custom reports. This eliminates the task of pulling reports together manually, saving teams time and helping automate workflows.
When it came to including marketing strategy into its business plan, LiveFlow created a separate marketing profit and loss statement (P&L) to track how well the company was doing with its marketing initiatives. This is a great approach, allowing businesses to focus on where their marketing dollars are making the most impact.
“Using this framework over a traditional marketing plan will help you set a profitable marketing strategy taking things like CAC, LTV, Payback period, and P&L into consideration,” explains LiveFlow co-founder, Lasse Kalkar.
Having this information handy will enable you to build out your business plan’s marketing section with confidence. LiveFlow has shared the template here. You can test it for yourself.
2. Lula Body
This is a good business plan example for service-based businesses such as gyms, boxing classes, dancing studios, etc. For starters, the plan shows how to budget for the business loan and what to focus on buying first. Everything is well presented, including what to charge the customers in different scenarios and the expected revenue. This is a good foundation from which business performance can be evaluated with time.
Brooklyn Business owner and Pilates instructor, Tara Kashyap, saw a need in her community for a pilates, tissue, and bodywork studio. In response, she opened Lula Body in Crown Heights.
Pictured above is a hypothetical pricing and revenue statement based on Lula Body’s business plan. As you can see, Kashyap breaks down the cost of classes, start-up expenses, monthly expenses, and her monthly sales projection. Everything from equipment costs to loan interest is included in the expenses to give the most accurate picture of operating costs and revenue.
If you’re seeking outside funding for your business, you’ll want to make sure this section of your business plan is as thorough as possible.
Sometimes all you need is a solid mission statement and core value to guide you on how to go about everything. You do this by creating a business plan revolving around how to fulfill your statement best. For example, Patagonia is an eco-friendly company, so their plan discusses how to make the best environmentally friendly products without causing harm.
A good mission statement should not only resonate with consumers but should also serve as a core value compass for employees as well.
Outdoor clothing retailer, Patagonia, has one of the most compelling mission statements we’ve seen:
“We’re in business to save our home planet.”
It reels you in right from the start, and the environmentally friendly theme continues throughout the rest of their statement.
The page-length open letter goes on to explain that they are out to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to protect nature.”
Their mission statement is compelling and detailed, with each section outlining how they will accomplish their goal.
This is the kind of business plan you need when applying for business funds. It clearly illustrates the expected future of the company and how the business has been coming along over the years.
This executive summary for a smart home device startup is part of a business plan created by students at Mount Royal University. While it lacks some of the sleek visuals of the templates above, their executive summary does a great job of demonstrating how invested they are in the business.
Right away, they mention they’ve invested $200,000 into the company already, which shows investors they have skin in the game and aren’t just looking for someone else to foot the bill.
This fictional business plan for an art supply store includes everything one might need in a business plan: an executive summary, a company summary, a list of services, a market analysis summary, and more. Due to its comprehensiveness, it’s an excellent example to follow if you’re opening a brick-and-mortar store and need to get external funding to start your business.
One of its most notable sections is its market analysis summary, which includes an overview of the population growth in the business’ target geographical area, as well as a breakdown of the types of potential customers they expect to welcome at the store. This sort of granular insight is essential for understanding and communicating your business’s growth potential. Plus, it lays a strong foundation for creating relevant and useful buyer personas.
It’s essential to keep this information up-to-date as your market and target buyer changes. For that reason, you should carry out market research as often as possible to ensure that you’re targeting the correct audience and sharing accurate information with your investors.
If you’re looking for a SaaS business plan example, look no further than this business plan for a fictional educational software company called Curriculum Companion Suites. Like the business plan for the NALB Creative Center, it includes plenty of information for prospective investors and other key stakeholders in the business.
One of the most notable features of this business plan is the executive summary, which includes an overview of the product, market, and mission. The first two are essential for software companies because the product offering is so often at the forefront of the company’s strategy. Without that information being immediately available to investors and executives, then you risk writing an unfocused business plan.
It’s also essential to front-load your company’s mission if it explains your “Why?” In other words, why do you do what you do, and why should stakeholders care? This is an important section to include if you feel that your mission will drive interest in the business and its offerings.
Culina’s sample business plan is an excellent example of how to lay out your business plan so that it flows naturally, engages readers, and provides the critical information investors and stakeholders need. You can also use this template as a guide while you’re gathering important details. After looking at this sample, you’ll have a better understanding of the data and research you need to do for your own business plan.
This is one of my favorite sample business plans because you can see how implementing visuals can help tell your brand’s story. The images in this plan are cutting edge, which makes sense for an innovative company like Plum. When creating your own business plan, make sure the pictures and design you use make sense for your branding.
Additionally, the financial charts included are an excellent guide if you’re not sure what financial information to include.
With this business plan, the focus is the investment opportunity. This is an excellent template to use if you’re going to use your business plan to seek funding. The investment opportunity section is placed right up front and is several pages long. Then, it goes into more detail about the company and its key services.
Get Started Writing Your Business Plan
When you’re first getting started on your business plan, it can be daunting. The business world moves fast, and it’s full of ambitious companies scrambling to gain the majority of their industry’s market share.
That’s why it’s important to make sure you understand the value your business provides and can communicate that through a properly formatted business plan.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.