Thinking of starting a business? Working for yourself is awesome, but it can also be a risky prospect: Your income depends upon your success, and many small businesses fail.
One of the key things that sets successful companies apart from those that don't make it is a solid plan for success. A business plan can create a roadmap to profitability and business growth, but it's up to you to create a detailed plan.
A business plan will help guide your decisions as you start your company, will give you an idea of whether the business is viable, and will help you to qualify for loans or attract investors -- but making a plan isn't as simple as it seems.
If you're thinking of starting a company, or if you have a start-up but no business plan in place, these three categories of resources can provide you with invaluable help.
1. Free (and low cost) consultants
Talking with experts who understand the business planning process is a surefire way to make a solid business plan. The good news is that this doesn't have to cost you a fortune. There are even some free sources of professional advice you can tap into.
Organizations that can help with your business plan include:
- SCORE: Formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives, SCORE is a nonprofit network of more than 10,000 volunteers willing to serve as expert business mentors. You can get paired with a professional in your area willing to offer advice on business planning, take interactive online training courses on developing a business plan, or attend a live webinar.
- Small Business Development Centers: SBDCs exist in every state, and are staffed by advisors with expertise in business plan development and other key issues affecting entrepreneurs. Universities and state economic development agencies host these centers; you can find them using resources from the Small Business Administration.
You can also hire paid business-plan consultants, although costs vary. If you go this route, ask for referrals from trusted sources and check reviews of anyone you're considering working with.
2. Business plan apps
Today, there's an app for everything -- including creating a business plan. In fact, there is a wide range of different programs for your mobile devices or computer that walk you through the business planning process. Options include:
- The Small Business Administration's tool to build a business plan: This will guide you step-by-step through the process of creating a plan to cover three to five years of business operations. You can save your plan online and update it at any time.
- Kentucky's Business Plan Wizard: Made available through the state's One Stop Business Portal, the Wizard walks you through every step of the process of creating a completed business plan.
- Enloop: You can create a simple business plan for free, or upgrade to create multiple plans or plans containing images. This tool makes planning easy: Simply add your business information and it will generate financial forecasts and business-plan text for you.
- Business Plan Premier: This $9.99 iOS app was touted by Entrepreneur as a full-featured app that writes a detailed business plan. Creating your plan is easy, as the app leads you through the process. Plus, you can download the finished document as a Word doc.
These suggested tools are free or very-low-cost. There are also apps and programs that cost hundreds of dollars. Compare features and reviews before deciding which app or tool is right for you.
3. Business plan templates and guides
Thanks to the Internet, there's an endless array of resources available to those who want to write a business plan -- including comprehensive templates and guides.
While your best option may be to search for templates in the form you prefer, there are also plenty of general tools out there to suit any business. These include:
- The Small Business Administration's business-plan template: You can download and fill in this 33-page PDF template to create a comprehensive business plan that will provide a roadmap for your company's success.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs' guide to writing a business plan: This basic PDF guide details why you want to write a business plan, gives guidelines for the plan, and discusses common mistakes. It also walks you through what each page of your business plan should contain.
- The Maine Small Business Development Centers' sample business plan: This PDF explains each of the sections of a small-business plan and provides a sample to inspire you.
Looking at these resources can help you understand not only what sections should be in your business plan and what information to include, but also the types of language used in these professional documents.
Start your business plan today
Creating a business plan may seem daunting. But don't let your fear or reluctance to create a plan stop you from moving forward.
Just use these tools to get your plan underway, and you'll be ready to start providing products or services to customers before you know it.