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Writing a Solid Business Plan: Fundamentals and Principles

Business Plan 101: All Your Questions Answered

I’ve worked as a business plan writer since 2006, and it’s been a remarkably fun and fulfilling career for me. I get to see entrepreneurs of all sorts, from all over the world, live out their dreams.

When I’m out and about meeting people in the real world, I don’t dread the question, “What do you do for a living,” like some people do, because I love talking about what I do for a living. 

But what I am quite used to is the blank stare that I tend to get, and the follow-up question, “What does that mean?” Other people nod their heads knowingly, especially if they have some experience with business or finance, but once they ask subsequent questions I realize they’re thinking of something completely different. So, I thought it might be helpful to talk about the top questions the Masterplans team gets about business plan writing and what happens when you hire a business plan writer.

What even is a business plan? 

The most basic possible question, and what people really mean when they ask me what my job title really means. I love to answer this question, except when I’m trying to explain it to relatives in Greece, or my Spanish-speaking friends! My second- and third-language skills are not strong enough to begin to explain what a business plan is. But, when I try to explain it to them, I break it down into the simplest terms, so maybe that’s the best place to start here. I do this with a series of questions and statements that go like this:

  1. Have you ever thought about starting your own business? (Inevitably, the answer is yes)
  2. Well, when you want to start your own business, you will probably need to apply for a loan, or ask an investor for funding. (People nod at this one…  I’ve still got their comprehension). 
  3. When you do that, you need to present a document that tells all about the business you’re starting. I write that document. 

And bingo, we have a basic level of understanding of what I do. But of course, it’s so much more complicated than that. A traditional business plan is made up of a complete outline of topics and sub-topics that any entrepreneur needs to be able to answer. It’s not always about funding either, even though that’s how I present it to friends. The truth is that every entrepreneur needs a business plan, even if they’re bootstrapping the project out of their own pocket. 

In actuality, a business plan is a comprehensive document that explains the details about your business, sets goals and objectives, and guides you going forward. That said, if you are pursuing funding like most entrepreneurs, your document needs to cover a range of required topics. 

Let’s take a look at the SBA requirements for the sections that need to be in a business plan:

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Market Analysis
  • Organization and Management
  • Service or Product line
  • Marketing and Sales
  • Funding request
  • Financial projections
  • Appendix (optional)

However, this is an overly broad listing, which doesn’t include many of the sub-sections that are involved. For example, at Masterplans, our Market Analysis covers a variety of sub-sections like Market Segmentation, Market Need, Industry Analysis, Competitive Comparison, and Competitive Edge. 

Part of being a good business plan writer means understanding what goes within each section and keeping the content organized into the appropriate area. Some customers have a hard time keeping straight the difference between the "Competitive Comparison" and the "Competitive Edge" sections, but they are quite distinct. Or, it can be tempting to talk about who your customers are in the "Market Analysis" instead of the "Market Segmentation." I’ve even had people mix up marketing tactics with products or services. It takes an experienced hand to keep the content organized.

What is the purpose of a business plan? 

A business plan’s highest purpose is to guide entrepreneurs in operating their business on the day-to-day level. It is a foundational document that I think of as the constitution of your business. It tells you everything you need to know about your idea, your goals, your strategy, and the financial picture of a business. 

Here at Masterplans, we strongly believe that entrepreneurs need to understand that a business plan is not a one-time use product, like applying for a business loan. Instead, we want our clients to use their business plan all the time, for years into the future, as long as the business exists. It should guide board meetings and management decisions. Your employees should read it so that they understand what your mission is, what steps you need to take to achieve success, and what their role is within your company.

But we admit that there are those one-time, single-serving uses for a business plan that will likely come up for you. You need it to apply for a bank loan. You need it to ask for investment. You need it when applying for a lease on a location. You often need it when applying for certain permits, especially those dealing with compliance issues. And for those of you who are foreign investors seeking a visa, you need it to include in your application packet to USCIS. 

Thus, a comprehensive business plan needs to be able to not just guide you in your daily decision-making, but it also needs to answer all the questions that an outside party might ask you when deciding whether to fund your idea or let you lease their space.

Who should write a business plan? 

Why, the entrepreneurial team should take the helm in writing a business plan, of course. Did you expect a different answer from a professional business plan writer? At Masterplans, we don’t shy away from delivering honest truth to our clients, because we thrive when they thrive. 

The truth is that an entrepreneur who isn’t intimately involved in the writing of their business plan from the start will never fully understand it, and that can hamper them on their path to achieving their goals. It’s imperative that an entrepreneur have a deep understanding of their business plan, or else they won’t be able to follow it! 

But, writing a business plan is an intense endeavor that requires a better-than-average command of English writing and style, as well as business theory and financial modeling. Very few people represent the total package, which is why at Masterplans, we work in teams of specialists who together have those skills. 

I can write a beautiful market analysis summary, analyze your competitive landscape in-depth, and wrap it all up with an attention-grabbing executive summary, but don’t ask me to explain a complex financial concept like Internal Rate of Return. (I’m being modest; I can tell you all about it, but I’ll leave that to our brilliant financial modelers who understand it in more depth than I do.)

While some entrepreneurs may somehow possess the bare minimum of skills that are required to create a decent business plan, they most certainly don’t have the time.  Starting a business involves numerous steps, and entrepreneurs are often pursuing each of those steps while juggling a full-time career and sometimes a family. It’s a lot. 

But a key quality shared by the best leaders is knowing when and what to delegate. If you have a dual major in English and Business, and you’ve done this a few times before, then sure, you could probably write a stellar business plan from scratch. 

But if you have virtually any other combination of experience, you could benefit greatly from delegating it to a company like ours that can counsel you every step of the way, scheduling out the project into meetings and discrete tasks so that you can be as involved as you should be in the process while still freeing up your time to handle the many other to-dos on your plate. (This benefit still holds true for the dual major, as well!)

Remember, the most important thing is that the business plan actually gets done so that you can use it to start your business, but like any long writing project, it can fall to the wayside when life’s pressures get in the way. Working with a deadline-driven consultancy like ours can help you reach the finish line.

Now that you have a basic introduction to the traditional business plan document, you probably have plenty of questions that go deeper. We’ve done our best to address those with our frequently asked questions about writing business plans

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