Writing a business plan can be intimidating. You know that you need to put a plan together to start a successful business, but you find yourself staring at a blank Word or Google doc wondering what to do next.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If you’re willing to give up your preconceptions that a plan has to be a lengthy document that you spend a lot of time and energy on once and then file away—you’ll discover that there are better (and faster) ways to plan.
Introducing the 30-minute plan
A traditional business plan can take hours, days, or even weeks to put together.
We recommend a simpler process that you can complete in under an hour. Sounds too good to be true? We successfully used this process ourselves to build LivePlan, and it’s a major reason why LivePlan is so successful. With a one-page business plan, we were able to quickly figure out our strategic goals and what it would take to grow the business.
You can do this, even if you’ve never written a business plan before. The key is to focus on creating a business plan that fits on one page. By focusing on a single page, you skip all the formatting, complete sentences, and paragraphs of text that most people skip anyways. Instead, you’ll prioritize outlining your actual business strategy, the business model you’ll use to make money, and the marketing and sales strategies you’ll use to grow.
How to write a business plan in just 11 steps
When putting together your one-page business plan, think in bullet points and short sentences. The goal is to keep each section as short as possible. Here is what you need to include, along with an example of a bike shop business plan I put together in just 27 minutes.
1. Value proposition
This section answers the question, “What does your business do?” Your goal is to communicate the value you are providing to your customers in a way that is as simple and direct as possible. Think of it like this—if you’re at a party and someone asks you what your business does, can you describe it in a single sentence?
Struggling to define your value? Check out this simple formula to create your unique value proposition.
2. Market need
What’s the problem you solve for your customers? Why would they go out shopping for a solution? Why does your business need to exist? Why would they choose you over other alternatives?
If you’re not sure, try talking to your potential customers and ask them what they might like about your products or services.
For your one-page business plan, one or two short sentences will do here. Keep things short and direct.
3. Your solution
Describe your product or service and why it’s better than the alternatives. Essentially, if someone asked you what you sell, what would your answer be? Your solution should be the answer to the market need that you described in the previous section that delivers the value you described in your value proposition.
4. Target market
Describe your ideal customer. Who are they? Be as specific as possible—age, gender, shopping habits, and so on. If you target different types of people, create market segments for each group. If you are targeting different market segments, list each segment and its approximate size.
For example, if you are targeting “young families” in addition to “older parents”, try and figure out how many people are in each group. For your initial plan, you don’t need to get too specific – you can always add more detail later as flesh out your plan.
Every business has competition. Who do your customers buy from if they aren’t going to buy from you? What makes your business and products better than the alternatives that are out there?
6. Funding needs
Nearly every business needs some money to get off the ground. Think about how much money you’ll need and how you plan on using it. Even if you’re starting your business with your own savings or using credit card debt, it’s a good idea to plan on how you will use the funds until you start making sales.
7. Sales channels
These are the places where you will sell your products. If you’re selling online, your online store is a sales channel. If you also have a physical store, that’s another sales channel.
8. Marketing activities
What will you do to market your business? If you plan on buying advertising, list the types of advertising you plan on doing here. Remember, different target markets might need different types of marketing activities to get your product in front of them.
9. Budget and sales goals
How much is it going to cost to run your business? What sales goals do you need to reach for your business to be a success? Don’t sweat the details to start and just think in broad strokes to get a rough idea of how your business will work financially.
You can start by just listing your primary revenue streams and your major expenses. As you learn more about the details, you can start to add estimates for how much sales you’ll bring in and what your actual expenses will be. Eventually, you’ll expand these broad estimates into a more detailed forecast, but initially just stick to high-level estimates.
What are the major tasks you need to accomplish to get your business up and running? This will help you stay on track and meet your goals. For most businesses, you should focus on the near term and highlight what you want to accomplish in the next few months.
Shorter-term milestones might include signing a lease on an office or designing your first prototype. Other businesses may have very long research and development cycles and should map out key milestones for the next 12-24 months. These businesses might have milestones related to getting regulatory approval or entering clinical trials.
Regardless of the timeframe of your milestones, make sure to assign milestones to people on your team so you have real responsibility and accountability.
Even if you’re starting out with just yourself as the only employee of your business, write a few quick bullets about why you’re the right person to run this business. If you need to hire key people in the future, list those positions as well, even if you don’t know who specifically will fill those positions right now.
This one-page plan looks pretty good—one of its strong points is that it’s built to help you visualize your plan and easily share it with others. While I used LivePlan to put this plan together, you can start by downloading this free Word doc template.
Need additional guidance? Check out this article for more detailed instructions to successfully build your one-page plan.
What to do after completing your simple business plan
Now that you’ve saved all that time writing your business plan, what should you do next?
With an initial plan in place, you’re primed to use a process known as growth planning that helps both startups and existing businesses grow more quickly and nimbly than their competitors.
Here are the initial steps you can take to put your new plan into action and start growth planning:
Test your idea and revise your plan
It’s rare to get a business idea right the first time. Almost every business makes changes to their initial idea to become a successful, growing company. That’s why it’s important to test your idea early and make adjustments before you sink too much money into your business.
There are plenty of ideas in the article linked above, but the core concept of validating your business idea is to go out and talk to potential customers and gather feedback. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting a tech company or a cookie business. Get your app design or your cookie samples into potential customers’ hands and hear what they have to say.
Once you have feedback, revise your plan. Your marketing or sales strategy might change, or perhaps you decide to change your overall value proposition. Either way, revise your plan and test again until you have a business model that works.
Expand into a more detailed business plan
The one-page plan is simple and effective, but there may be a time when you need to expand your plan and create a more detailed business plan. Lenders and investors may want to see a more detailed business plan if only to prove that you’ve taken time to think through all the details of getting your business up and running.
Or, maybe you just want to add more details to your plan, and expanding beyond the single page makes sense for you. This may be more robust market research, expanded financial forecasts, or other details that make your plan more useful.
Luckily, by starting with a simple business plan format, you can easily expand on the necessary sections without having to start over. And, the real value in detailed planning is the process that you go through to create the plan.
You’ll be forced to answer questions about your business that you might have been tempted to gloss over or ignore completely if you skip the planning process. If a detailed business plan sounds like it will be a useful tool for you, check out this detailed step-by-step guide, as well as a free template you can download.
Review and revise
Revising your initial business plan isn’t just for new businesses that are just figuring out their path to success. Businesses that are up and running also benefit from regularly going back and revising their plan as things change. Your sales goals might need to be adjusted or you might need to adjust your expense budget. Perhaps you’ll decide to sell to a different kind of customer. Your one-page plan is a great place to document those changes and will help you track your progress toward your goals.
When you update your plan, you’re setting new goals to strive for. You’re also ensuring that your business strategy is documented and ready to share with new business partners, investors, and employees. I’ve found that sharing my company’s plan with employees improves transparency and gives everyone the big picture of what we’re trying to do. It ensures that everyone is moving the company in the same direction.
Download our one-page business plan template
Your simple one-page business plan is your guide to building the business you want and your key to finding success. And, thankfully, it’s so much easier and faster than traditional business planning.
If you want to get started on your plan right away, you can download our free one-page plan template. With that, you will be well on your way to a better business strategy, without all the time and hassle of drafting a lengthy business plan.
If you want to elevate your ability to build a healthy, growing business, you may want to explore the growth planning process and learn how it can help you build a sustainable, profitable business. You should also consider LivePlan.
It’s a product that makes growth planning easy and features step-by-step guidance that ensures you cover everything necessary while reducing the time spent on formatting and presenting. You’ll also gain access to financial forecasting tools that propel you through the process. Finally, it will transform your plan into a management tool that will help you easily compare your forecasts to your actual results.