A business plan describes how a new business will meet its primary objectives over a given period of time. It is both a strategic document that can act as a roadmap and a tool for securing funding and communicating with stakeholders. For a startup business, planning is key to developing a thorough understanding of the target market, competition, market conditions, and financing opportunities. Comprehensive planning will include identifying startup costs, as well as examining financial resources and future projections. View and download any of our 23 free Microsoft Excel and Word templates for analyzing startup expenses, creating detailed budgets, and crafting effective business plans. Each template is designed for professional use that you can customize for your specific startup.
Why Write a Startup Business Plan?
The benefits of writing a business plan range from clarifying initial ideas to attracting potential investors. The process of business planning can help uncover weaknesses as well as opportunities you may have overlooked. Planning encourages entrepreneurs to examine each step required to start a business in order to avoid mistakes in the long run. Collecting data through market analysis can allow you to confidently make informed decisions and provide a dose of reality to your business idea by affirming or challenging initial assumptions about your product, business model, or strategies for achieving success. Once you clarify your startup vision, analyze financial and market data, and define goals, you can create a strategic action plan to use as a guide for reaching objectives and addressing potential challenges.
After establishing a startup, continue business planning to identify ways to grow and improve the business as well as to plan for resource use and development. If you treat your business plan as a living document that you regularly review and update, you can also use it to measure progress over time. An effective plan communicates a company’s vision to team members and all stakeholders, and provides both a foundation and an adaptable model that can grow and change along with the business.
One key reason for startups to develop sound business plans is to convince investors and lenders to finance the endeavor. Most banks and investors will want to see detailed financial projections and a statement of your current personal and business financial standing. Investors may want to see market data and other proof that your plan has a high chance for success. Without adequate financing, no startup can succeed, so it’s essential to create an ironclad pitch for funders.
What to Include in a Business Plan
Business plans are tailored to fit a specific type of business and to serve a particular purpose, whether it’s to seek funding, influence a particular audience, or develop strategy for internal use. While you’ll need to continually revise plans need to fulfill a certain function, there are similar elements in all business plans. Here are some of the common sections included in a startup business plan:
- Summary and Objectives: This first section can provide background information, a detailed company description, general industry information, goals that you want to achieve, and long-term objectives. Depending on the size and type of business, this information may be divided into multiple sections or summarized in one pitch.
- Marketing Plan: Providing market data and an outline for how you will market and sell products and services allows you to show a deep understanding of your target audience and your plans for branding and distribution. Be sure to conduct thorough research that you can use to back up your plans with supporting numbers and statistics. You may also include separate, detailed sections on competition, customer characteristics, product features, sales forecasts, and marketing strategy.
- Operational Plan: This section is concerned with the equipment, processes, and people involved in daily operations. You may want to include details on location requirements, production methods, legal issues (such as licenses or insurance requirements), staffing information, vendor needs, and other operational elements.
- Management and Organization: A description of management positions and professional advisors provides an organized look at key roles, the experience individuals bring to the business, and important consultants or mentors. You can also include resumes for key employees and startup owners if the business plan is supporting a loan application or investor pitch.
- Startup Expenses and Financial Plan: Estimate expenses as accurately as possible and include contingencies for unforeseen costs. Creating estimates requires thorough research, and expenses should include even small items - while they are easy to overlook, they may add up to significant costs. A comprehensive financial plan can include profit and loss projections and other budget forecasts in order to provide a clear picture of a startup’s financial standing and future outlook.
A business plan will, of course, look different for a restaurant, web-based business, technology service provider, or product manufacturer. Before getting started, consider what you want to accomplish with your business plan, and customize it accordingly.
Business Plan Tips
Taking the time for thorough research and planning can help you make informed decisions, avoid potential pitfalls, and craft an effective plan. Here are a few tips to consider as you create a business plan:
- Get Creative: Business plans can follow a simple outline, but turning your plan into a creative presentation can make a statement and grab investors’ attention.
- Use Data Wisely: No matter what format or approach you take, a startup business plan should be concise and include compelling evidence and hard data to back up your claims.
- Refine Your Plan: Consider your audience and review your plan to ensure the information presented is appropriate, sufficient, and clear.
- Focus on Objectives: Connect every strategy to core objectives so that there is a clear path for attaining success.
Competitive Analysis Template - Excel
Analyze multiple competitors based on the categories you want to compare, and use the results to identify your top rivals. This template contains several sheets to provide a comprehensive look at how your startup stacks up to the competition, the strengths of each company, and potential partnerships or opportunities.
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SWOT Analysis Template - Excel
While researching your business plan, both risks and opportunities are likely to arise. This critical information gives you the chance to plan for how you will take advantage of or address them as needed. A SWOT analysis helps you identify and gain a clear understanding of internal strengths and weaknesses as well as external opportunities and threats. The results of the analysis will inform your business goals and strategies for reaching them. Once completed, you can add this SWOT template to a startup business plan or use it as a planning tool. If this template doesn’t have the details you require, you can find more options here.
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Marketing Plan Template - Excel
Easily create a detailed marketing plan for different campaigns, including projected and actual costs. It also doubles as a marketing calendar template, showing a weekly, monthly, and quarterly breakdown of your timeline and initiatives. A marketing plan is typically part of a business plan, but you can use this dedicated template for developing a thorough plan and schedule.
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Business Startup Checklist Template - Excel
This template offers a simple checklist to help you organize all of the tasks that need to be accomplished, from initial research and planning to establishing professional partnerships and acquiring necessary permits. Edit the list to include relevant actions for a particular business. This is an easy way to ensure that important items are not overlooked and prioritize steps.
Business Planning Schedule - Excel
This template allows you to create a schedule for tasks with a visual calendar for planning. This layout can help you organize your planning process and provide a timeline for reaching certain milestones. The template is structured around planning stages, allowing you to separate tasks hierarchically. To use this template for another planning process, simply edit the tasks included and add your dates to the schedule.
Target Market Comparison Template - Excel
Utilize this worksheet to compare target markets in order to understand which are ideal for your product or service. Understanding your customers is vital not only for developing effective strategies, but also for showing investors that you’ve done the necessary research and understand how to reach potential customers.
Startup Business Plan Template - Word
This template offers a traditional outline for creating a business plan document. You’ll find sections for an executive summary, company description, marketing plan, product and operational information, financial data, and room for appendices. You can refine the plan to suit different industries and business types. For example, if you want to create a technology startup business plan template, you will want to show how the startup will deal with rapidly changing markets, and provide product and market research that shows how your business will be on the cutting edge. You may also need to provide longer-term financial projections since high-tech startups often operate for an extended time without profits.
One-page Business Plan Template - Word
Create a streamlined business plan document on a single page with this Word template. A simplified plan can be helpful for summarizing information into a brief report. This format gives readers a quick overview of your startup business plan while emphasizing key points.
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Small-Business Budget Template - Excel
This basic budget is ideal for small businesses that want an easy, blank template to customize. To create a business budget, include both fixed and variable expenses along with revenue and funding sources. Use this template to track expenditures and revenue, maintain a balanced budget, and to help grow your business.
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Sales Forecast Template - Excel
With this template, you get a 12-month sales forecast as well as sales data from prior years. You can organize the spreadsheet based on product names, target customers, or other categories, and then enter forecasted monthly sales, including adjustments for seasonal changes or other factors that might impact sales. The template also calculates monthly and yearly totals.
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Business Startup Costs Template - Excel
Startup costs begin to accrue before operations begin, so it’s important to determine expenses early on to avoid being underfunded or overspending. This startup costs template shows a summary of both funding and expenses at the top, with itemized details below. You can use this worksheet to outline expenses, create a tentative budget, and compare actual costs as they accrue. Similar to a start up budget template, this version helps you focus on expenditures.
Startup Budget Template - Excel
A startup budget is an important tool for identifying what financial resources are available,
determining how much revenue is needed to meet business goals, and pinpointing areas where you can save money. A budget works as a planning tool as well as a method for tracking actual expenditures. As part of a business plan, it supports the process of pitching to investors and completing loan applications. This budget template is geared toward startup companies and includes a section for projected monthly costs.
Startup Financial Projections Template - Excel
Similar to a pro forma template for startups, this version includes a 12-month profit and loss projection, a balance sheet, and a cash flow statement. Use the template to analyze the current financial standing and run a future forecast for a business. The spreadsheet includes pre-populated fields with expenses and income sources, which you can easily edit to accommodate your business.
Personal Financial Statement - Excel
Some lenders may require a personal financial statement in addition to relevant business data. This template lists assets and liabilities in order to calculate net worth. You’ll also find space for adding a signature so you can certify that the information is correct.
Balance Sheet Template - Excel
This template can be modified to either show an opening day balance for a startup or to create a projected balance sheet. Choose a given time period, enter your numbers for assets, liabilities, and equity, and the template will provide automatic calculations.
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First-Year Budget Calculator - Excel
Combining business and personal budget information into a single template can be useful for small business owners who are just getting started. This template focuses on first-year budget calculations including startup costs, operating expenses, estimated income, personal expenses, and more. You can identify fixed and recurring costs for a full view of expenses for the first year.
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12-Month Cash Flow Forecast - Excel
This template shows all 12 months of the year for a monthly and annual cash flow forecast. In addition to creating a forecast, you can compare actual cash flow totals for each month. The template is divided into categories for cash on-hand, cash receipts, and cash paid-out, with an alternating color scheme for easy viewing.
Annual Business Budget Template - Excel
As a startup becomes established, this template can be used to create a budget showing totals on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. You can create a projected 12-month budget as well as compare financial data to the previous year’s performance. The template provides detailed income and expense categories for thorough planning and tracking.
Financial Dashboard Template - Excel
Create a visual financial report with this dashboard template, which tracks statistics over time using graphs and charts. Compare sales rep performance, product revenue, regional data, or other financial KPIs. A graphical report provides a quick overview of financial information in a format that is easy to understand and share with stakeholders.
Marketing Budget Plan - Excel
Create a dedicated marketing budget with results displayed in both a spreadsheet format and pie chart. Calculate costs for various marketing campaigns in order to view fund allocation. The template includes space for comments and notes to aid in strategic business planning.
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Website Budget Template - Excel
This startup website template provides sections for calculating initial development costs as well as creating a projected budget over three years. View a list of costs and benefits to see how the website will impact the business over time. This template can help you determine the value of your website investment and track actual annual performance.
Loan Amortization Schedule - Excel
Keep track of a loan balance, payments made, upcoming amounts due, and interest paid with this loan amortization template. Enter lender information and loan terms at the top of the template, and then use the schedule to track payment details. Startups owners will appreciate how easy it is to manage business loans and create repayment plans.
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