After you’ve really researched the kind of business you want to start, it’s time to make a business plan. Writing a business plan really helps you see where you are going. It also keeps you on track. It’s easy to waste mindless energy on tasks that seem relevant but do not help you achieve anything. Having a business plan will help you look at a task and make sure it is worth your time.

There are seven sections that you should include for a successful business plan.

Summary

The main summary or executive summary makes sense if you are writing a long business plan. This could be just a couple of sentences with an introduction to your business. What is the business about? Who is the customer, and what is the product? Writing a summary gives you a chance to introduce your business to someone you meet for the first time.

Business Description

This is used to place your business within the industry. Start by describing the industry including where it might be headed in the future. Is there anything new happening within the industry such as products that may affect your business? This part of your business plan shows how you fit into your industry. It helps to avoid fluff. Use data with real numbers. Leave the hype to your marketing department. Stick to the facts only.

Market Strategies

After analyzing the market in depth, you can define your market strategies. This section will show your target market. It will also help you show how you plan to position yourself within your market. How many potential customers are there? How do you plan on marketing your business? How much will it cost to acquire a new customer?

Competitive Analysis

This is where you lay out all you have learned about the competition. What are you going to come up against with your competitors? What are their weaknesses? How are you going to stop them taking your share of the market? This is your chance to differentiate your business. Your goal here is to come up with a real competitive advantage. “We are better or cheaper” is not a competitive advantage. Anyone can say that they are better or lower their prices. You need to do better than that.

Design and Development

This is where you show all the research and trial and error that has gone into making your product. Beyond just the product, it shows how the product fits into your greater business and marketing practices. Basically, it shows how your product is going to contribute to the success of your business. If you are going to create a successful product, you have to develop it with your future customers. Get their input during the product design phase. Listen to what they are telling you, and make adjustments based on what you are learning in the process.

Operations and Management Plan

The operations and management plan displays how it all fits together. Who will be doing what? Who will collaborate with whom? And who takes responsibility or tasks A, B, and C? It also shows what the money flow between these departments will be and how it is all kept in check.

Financial Data

Last but not least is the financial data. This is where you get down to the nitty gritty of the numbers. Numbers are, of course, important. But having everything else set out and defined first means that the numbers are just there to tie the whole plan together nicely.

A strong business plan can help you keep on track and clarify your goals. It also demonstrates to potential investors that you have delved in deep to define and build your business. There are a number of helpful tools that can be found online to help you. You can find out how long a business plan should be for your industry. It’s also possible to look over a few templates as examples and guides. The main thing is that you prioritise making a business plan.

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George Meszaros is the editor and co-founder of Success Harbor where entrepreneurs learn about building successful companies. Success Harbor is dedicated to document the entrepreneurial journey through interviews, original research, and unique content. George Meszaros is also co-founder of Webene, a web design and digital marketing agency.