Business & Career Center

Small Business Guides: How do I write a Business Plan?

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One of the first things to do when starting a business is to create a business plan containing your ideas and strategies for success. A business plan organizes your thoughts and allows you to share your vision with others, like potential partners and sources of funding. A standard business plan is outlined below, followed by suggested resources to help develop a plan and find the data you will need.

Business Plan Outline
  1. Cover Sheet-name of business, owner, address and phone number
  2. Statement of Purpose or Executive Summary
  3. Table of Contents
  4. Description of the Business:
    1. The Industry - the specific products or services of your business
    2. The Customers - your market
    3. The Competition - other companies in the same business
    4. The Location - its advantages
    5. Marketing, Advertising, and PR Strategies
    6. Company Personnel and Management
  5. Financial Data - balance sheets, profit & loss statements, etc.
  6. Supporting Documents - personnel resumes, credit reports, leases and contracts
Getting Started

Books

Picture of business plan books

The Business Plans Handbook is a multi-volume collection of actual business plans from real businesses in a variety of industries. The full set is kept behind the reference desk at the Business and Career Center at the Central Library, but you can also access these sample business plans online using one of the library's databases, the Small Business Resource Center. The Small Business Sourcebook is another valuable set of reference book that can be used for your business plan. This set of books lists valuable resources, such as books, magazines, trade associations, and government agencies, for hundreds of business types. All of the volumes of the Small Business Sourcebook are kept behind the reference desk at the Business and Career Center at the Central Library, but they are also available in the Small Business Resource Center database. For more business plan titles, including eBooks, search for business plans as a keyword in the Library Catalog.

Websites

The U.S. Small Business Administration

          This site is an excellent place to begin your Business Plan development because it can also link to other pages regarding the legal and financial aspects of starting your business.

SCORE

          This site has several great templates and guides for business planning, finance, sales, marketing, and management.

BizPlanit's Virtual Business Plan

          BizPlanit's Virtual Business Plan provides a great outline with specific details on industry analysis, competition and target markets.

Bplans.com

          For a fee, Bplans.com a host of sample plans that include actual market data for specific businesses are available.

Technical Assistance

You can receive free individualized help with your business plan at the Business & Career Center at the Central Library or Brooklyn's Borough Hall by making an appointment with a SCORE representative. The counselors can also take walk-in appointments during their assigned hours if they do not have any appointments set up. Visit our SCORE counseling page to see when counselors are available at these locations and for more information about booking an appointment. There are also other organizations who can provide individualized assistance to people working on their business plans throughout New York City. Go to the Local Business Assistance Providers section of the Small Business site to look for additional organizations that can help.

 

Description of the Business - Where to Find the Data

Keep in mind that your business plan has basically two parts, the business description and the financial data. The business description covers the unique and winning features of your business, and also provides data that demonstrates there is a market that makes it likely to be successful. The Business and Career Center at the Central Library can help you find information on your industry's size and trends, your potential customers, the number and size of your competitors, and the demographics of your location. The second part of the plan should outline financial projections to show that you understand the cost of doing business and the income you must sustain to be profitable. A number of resources can help you develop figures that are realistic.

Every business fits into an industry sector or section of the economy. For instance, a clothing store is part of the retail industry, while an auto repair shop is part of the service industry. A well-written business plan will include research on the overall situation and future trends in a specific industry because it indicates that you understand and anticipate changes in the factors that impact your business. You are giving an overview, so this data will generally be on the national or even international level. You might answer some of the following questions in this section.

  • What is the size of the industry, measured by number of firms, employment and revenue size?
  • What are some characteristics of the industry; is it labor intensive, is it highly regulated, is it dominated by a few companies or many?
  • What role does technology play?
  • What new products are being developed that will impact the industry?

You can begin researching these questions by checking out the How Do I Research an Industry section of this site. It explains how to identify the Standard Industrial Code (SIC) or NAICS codes associated with your business and lists a wide variety of additional resources.

Your business plan must be able to answer the critical question: "Who are my customers?" No matter how great your product or service, your business will not succeed unless someone needs or wants it. Your business plan defines your customers, whether they are individuals or businesses.

Individual Customers

If you are starting a women's clothing boutique, you need to collect data indicating there is a sizeable female population in your area. In addition to finding an area with a sizeable female population, you should also consider the other factors that influence female fashion purchasing, such as income and age. Knowing this information can help you adjust your strategy by catering your products or services to the customers in your area as well as market them more effectively. Our "Researching Your Customers" presentation from our latest Market Research Presentations has a number of helpful strategies and resources for conducting this type of research. This presentation can be found on our Program Presentations page.

Business Customers

If your customers are primarily other businesses, you need to determine what type of business would buy your product, whether or not the number of these companies growing, where these businesses are located, and what other factors impact their purchasing decisions. The How Do I Research a Company or How Do I Research an Industry guides have a number of resources and strategies for finding this information.

Consider your potential competitors as well as your potential customers. In other words, what companies are in the same industry, how many are there, are they successful, how are they organized, how do they distribute and market their products, and are their sales growing or shrinking? All of this information will help you determine the shape and image of your company. To learn about the ins and outs of collecting data on a company, check out our How Do I Research a Company guide.

The selection of a site for your company is an important consideration. The type of business can dictate the location, how much space you need, if you need storefront visibility, or if you need loading dock space for deliveries. In your business plan, you must outline your company's unique requirements and indicate how your location responds to them. If you are actually looking for a property, the How Do I Find a Location for My Business guide can help you locate an appropriate neighborhood for your business, find a real estate agent, determine who owns a property and compare property prices.

e. Marketing, Advertising, and PR Strategies

No matter how superior your product or service, you must have a plan to promote and distribute it in order to succeed, and these initiatives should be mentioned in your business plan. There are several books and eBooks on marketing and advertising strategies, including social media marketing, in the Library Catalog. You can find a number of these items by using "marketing" or "advertising" as a keyword in a catalog search. The Brooklyn Public Library also subscribes to a number of useful databases that can help you market or advertise the products and/or services of your business. The library subscribes to a video tutorial database, pictured below, called Lynda.com. Lynda has several video courses on how to market your business, how to increase your web presence using tactics such as SEO and SEM, and how to use software, such as Adobe illustrator and photoshop, that can be used to create your own adds, and this database is available remotely with your library card and PIN number. The library also subscribes to a database called SRDS Media Planning Platform that can help you find advertising opportunities. This database lists contact information, advertising rates, and viewership information for magazines, websites, and networks that are selling advertising space. This database can be searched by geographic location as well as topics of interest, and it is available on library computers at all of the branches of Brooklyn Public Library.

Example marketing tutorial from Lynda

In addition to marketing and advertising your product or service, you can also attract new customers by receiving press coverage or a review from a reputable newspaper, magazine, or website. If you owned a restaurant, for example, a good review or write up from a New York Times critic would probably be good for business. The Business and Career Center at the Central Library subscribes to a database that can help you find and contact people who do these write for media organizations and blogs called Cision PR. This database can be used to construct lists of media contacts by the subject areas that they write about as well as their geographic focus. This database can also be used to construct email blasts that look like individual emails addressed to each person of interest. This database is only available at the Central Library.

f. Company Personnel and Management

Your business plan needs to supply information on the people who own and run the business. It is important to give a clear picture of your capabilities and those of your staff. Provide the resumes of top personnel here or at the end of the plan. Describe your employees special skills, outline the organization, explain basic operations, discuss the salaries you expect to pay, and mention additional individuals such as accountants and consultants who will assist you. There are multiple resources available that can help you determine how many employees that you may need as well as what the typical pay should be for different positions in your organization. You can use the "U.S. Businesses" database in ReferenceUSA to find personnel information from other companies in your industry using a the "Keywords/NAICS/SIC" option under business type in the advanced search. The business entries in this database will give you an estimate of the number of employees that work at that particular company, and the entries also have a link that will show all the job postings from this company on indeed.com. Both of these pieces of information could help you determine your company's personnel needs. You can also find wage information by area, including hourly wages for specialized professional services such as accountants, using the "Wage Data by Area and Occupation" publications from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The library also has several books and eBooks on management skills and business organization that can help you with these types of questions, and these can be found using keyword searches for "small business" and "management" in the Library Catalog

Financial Data

After you have thoroughly described your business and explained why it will succeed in attracting customers, provide some actual financial figures to explain how your revenues will turn into profits. In a business plan, your financial statements are used to predict the future profitability of your company. The numbers should be based on past performance, unless you are just starting out. Two important sources for financial projections are your own ACCOUNTING RECORDS and established FINANCIAL RATIOS.

Accounting Records

Whether you are in business, or starting a business, you should have a bookkeeper establish simple accounting procedures to control your funds. There are also many books in our Library Catalog that can give you a good understanding of financial statements and bookkeeping concepts, from basic skills to complex principles. These books outline the components and the functions of essential financial statements such as balance sheets, income statements and cash flow analysis. If you are already in business, these records will provide the basis of your financial projections for your business plan. If used properly and consistently these documents are budgeting tools that will tell you how much money you have to spend, or serve as warning signals if you are losing money. Many sites offer examples of the financial statements you will need in your business plan. Here are a few of the best:

Financial Ratios

In a startup, you will need to do some research regarding average operating costs and income. Look at other companies' annual reports or talk to other business owners regarding their expenses and their sales. Whether you are an established business or starting out, you should refer to "industry norms" as a point of comparison. Industry norms are composite financial figures derived by averaging the financial statements of companies grouped by industry and asset size. In some cases the data is presented in actual dollar amounts; in others it is in ratios that compare actual financial figures such as assets to liabilities. These key ratios and statements are determined for a number of industry sectors in these resources:

Web-based:

Print:

These ratios are invaluable when preparing a business plan. By using them you can estimate the figures you will need to create a Balance Sheet, a Profit and Loss Statement and a Cash Flow Statement.

Supporting Documents

Once you have added supporting documents such as copies of tax returns, resumes, legal contracts, employee agreements, etc., your business plan will be ready to submit to potential investors and lenders. If you have done your research, anticipated problems by thinking creatively, and presented your ideas and your business with clarity and confidence you will be on the road to a successful venture. Should you need assistance in organizing or writing your business plan, there are many local agencies that offer help, via consultation or classes. Many are listed in the Local Business Assistance Providers section. And don't forget to visit the Business & Career Library to access our many resources.

Other Small Business Guides: