Building a robust, data-backed business plan is an investment into your business’ success. The time spent collecting thoughtful research and data to inform your purpose will show lenders and investors you have a realistic approach. Plus, your business plan provides intentional direction when you’re making serious decisions to guide growth.
Your business plan will have two distinct elements:
- Strategic planning: Where the bulk of your planning will live. Your strategic business plan is what you’ll refer to when seeking financing at the bank and sourcing any investment funds or grants. It is the guiding document for your business.
- Operational planning: The functional pieces of your strategic planning. Your operations plan answers the “how” and the strategic plan identifies the “what.”
A robust, up-to-date plan will guide your business’ strategy and demonstrate that you and your concept are worthwhile investments.
Most startup business plans will look at the first five years of operations, but years one through three are what matter the most—three years is a reasonable time frame to create a plan and see it through. This allows you to focus on the immediate future while keeping in mind where you want to be in five to 10 years.
As you build your business plan, you’re refining your ideas and bringing them closer to reality. Walk through ATB’s Business Plan Template while reading the outline below.
Areas of focus
Here are the main components to include in your business plan:
- Executive summary
- Company profile
- SWOT analysis
- Products and services
- Market research
- Marketing plan
Other items may be succession planning or a location profile highlighting the unique attributes of the municipality you’re building your business in. For example, Lac La Biche is one of four officially bilingual municipalities in Alberta.
While it’s the first page in your document, this is the section you’ll write last. It’s a high-level overview of everything you’ve included in the rest of the business plan.
Create an executive summary that’s thorough and straight forward, so lenders or potential investors can easily understand what you hope to accomplish and how. This also allows them to easily find more details in other sections of your plan if they want to dive deeper.
Build out the bulk of your plan first, then come back with the information you’ll need to write this one-page abstract, including:
- Basic business information: name, address, contact info, etc.
- Legal structure of the business
- Owners and key personnel
- Business value proposition
When you show that you understand the risks that come with your startup and are prepared to face them, lenders will be more likely to finance you. One way to do this is with a strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats (SWOT) analysis. Creating a realistic SWOT analysis for your business allows you to identify risks or potential obstacles that could impact your business.
The heart of your business plan is your company profile. Let your story shine and share the “why” behind your business idea. Why does this business suit you? Why can you make this business work? This could include your background and education, personal experiences or the spark of inspiration that brought this concept to life.
Capture the relevant background and skills of each team member, partner or owner involved in your business. Describe your mentors and advisors, and why their expertise is invaluable to your startup.
If you're buying an existing business, explain why you chose it and what will happen to the existing structure and operations.
Who are your customers and where are they? Once you’ve identified your market, explain why your business will thrive within it. If you have a new product or service, how does it meet the needs of consumers? These details are the secrets to your success, informed by developing a detailed market research strategy.
Behind every marketing plan is the story of your business. How did you get here? What led you to develop this product or service? Who are the faces of your enterprise and why are they involved? Share that story with your audience far and wide. Business consultant Simon Sinek says it best:
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
Your marketing plan includes four key points:
- What your message is (your target market’s pain point and the benefit of your product or service)
- Who you’ll persuade to love your product or service
- Where your message will go
- How you will deliver your message
Bringing your brand to life requires thought out tactics to connect with the right audience in a way that people admire and notice. Create strong descriptions of how you plan to execute these strategies, both on and offline. Your marketing plan should cover at least the first 12 months of operations.
Our Marketing Plan Template will take you step by step through what’s included in a robust marketing strategy.
Your operations plan captures day-to-day objectives and what you’ll do to meet them. What will your ideal average day look like when you’re in business? What will the production and delivery of your product or service look like? How will your customers interact with you? What does their journey look like? Outline this operational plan as if you’re showing a new employee how everything in the business works.
Details to include are:
- Key personnel in operations: co-owners, employees, contractors, etc.
- Quote process
- Transactions, including sales methods and processing payments
- Shipping and/or delivery methods
- Supply chain and quality control methods
- Any guarantees or warranties
- Policies around accounts payable (AP) and accounts receivable (AR), including:
- Credit term: the time limit that you set for your customers to pay for your products or services
- Credit policy: the guidelines you use when deciding whether or not to extend credit to a customer, and on what terms.
- Contingency plans if an employee leaves
- Business continuity
Cash flow forecasting
Since your operations strategy outlines the day-to-day functioning of your business, you’ll include your cash flow statement under your operations section. It’s important you include at least two years of cash flow forecasting to show you know how a number of details regarding your income, expenses and sales outlook will impact your bottom line.
Depending on your business, you may choose to manage your bookkeeping using accrual accounting or cash accounting. Accrual accounting will track your income based on the date you performed a service, not when payment is received by your customer, leaving an opportunity for a potential gap in cash flow. Cash accounting will track the income when the payment is received, no matter the date of service.
Here are some examples:
Warren owns a plumbing company. Warren’s service technicians fix a hot water tank at Yvonne’s condo on Oct.30, and email a copy of her invoice after services are completed on-site. Warren’s company invoices net-15, giving the customer 15 days to pay after services are completed, and does accounting on an accrual basis. Even though Yvonne pays her invoice on Nov. 4, Warren will count the income in his October cash flow statement.
Reese owns a donut cafe close to a university, and received an order on March 20 for three dozen donuts for a faculty event on April 3. Reese tracks all income for the cafe—including donut pre-orders—based on her day-to-day sales and not when the orders are placed. Therefore Reese will track the income for this order on April 3, when the order is picked up at the café, including it in her April cash flow statement.
Cash flow forecasting will show where your money is coming from, being spent and how much cash your business has on hand during a set period. This is what lenders consider to see if your business will be able to carry a loan.
Here are the different categories of cash flow:
Operating cash flow
- Revenue from the sales of products or services to customers.
- Accounts receivable (AR): the sales you’ve made that have not yet been paid for by the customer.
- Interest and dividends your business receives.
- Accounts payable (AP): the amounts you owe to your suppliers that are due for payment in the future.
- Any overhead costs, such as rent, utilities and insurance should be included in AP.
- Inventory: the supplies or products that your business keeps on hand to meet sales demands.
- Payroll costs: the regular outflow of employee wages, benefits, and employment insurance and taxes.
Investing cash flow
- Purchasing capital goods, including equipment, furniture or property.
- Any income not generated by normal business operations, including investment activities or the sale of business assets other than a product or service.
Financing cash flow
- Proceeds of a loan, line of credit or other financing.
- Debt servicing for cash borrowed (interest payments).
- Dividend payments to equity investors.
Your operations overview highlights the numbers you’ll need to review regularly. Set key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure you’re on the right track. KPIs are quantifiable measurements of success, so identify specific data points and dig deep.
Reflect on each person’s role within the organization, and how they can and will contribute to achieving each of the identified KPIs. Whether you choose general high-level indicators or fixed goals, include how you’re going to track each KPI, how often you’ll review your performance in meeting them and identify criteria that indicate a shift needs to be made in your operational strategy.
Examples of operational KPIs:
- Sales units and financial reports
- Average revenue per customer
- Product production timeline
- Handling and shipping time
- Shelf life before sale
- Customer satisfaction ratings
The financial component of your business plan includes forecasting, startup funding sources, the initial costs for your startup and a summary of your cash flow forecasting. It aligns with your marketing strategy, showing where your sales will come from.
Develop a master budget for your first year of business. Include startup costs, projections for your income, cash flow, expenses, and static or fluctuating operating costs.
Showcase all funding sources: bootstrapping, personal investment, venture capital or other sources. Show what you already have incoming and if it’s meant to cover specific startup costs.
Cameron wants to enhance his marketing literacy and skills, and found a weekend course at his local polytechnic. He applied for the Canada Job Grant, and received a grant to cover 100% of the course cost. In his business plan, he includes the grant as part of the startup funding received with a note about the course, and adds the course as a startup expense.
Your own personal investment in your startup can come in many forms. Not only will you invest time, but you may also provide financial collateral or equipment to the venture—for example, a photographer who has purchased their own camera and specific lenses for different uses and settings. Include these items in your startup costs breakdown worksheet.
Lance and Dinesh are starting a small-scale manufacturing startup. Lance owns a 3D printer, which he will bring into the business to create prototypes, and a personal laptop that runs the programs for the 3D printer. Dinesh also has a laptop and some modelling tools. Lance and Dinesh calculate the current market value of these items and input this into their business plan in their startup costs. If they incorporate, these items will become property of the company.
Costs can add up quickly when you’re launching a business. Many of these costs are one-time large purchases, including licensing fees and permitting, incorporation fees or buying equipment. Organizations like Futurpreneur can provide startup financing to help offset some of these costs.
Profit and loss statement
Profit and loss statements identify your business’ income. When starting a business net-new, your profit and loss statement will be “pro forma,” which in Latin means “as a matter of form.” Pro forma profit and loss statements will use projections—like your cash flow forecasting—to indicate your gross and net profit margins.
Gross income: complete income before deductions, like taxes or expenses.
Net income: income that is leftover after all deductions are made.
It will include the depreciation of any assets your business owns, and identify regularly generated profit and your breakeven point. Include the dollar amount and a percentage of the income or income used for each category.
If you’re purchasing a business, you can generate a profit and loss statement from actual financials from previous time periods. Use these numbers along with your broader business plan to forecast future profit margins.
Creating a holistic picture of your business finances makes it easier to identify potential gaps in cash flow, and project investment opportunities after you hit your breakeven point. Potential lenders will look at your financial projections to provide realistic expectations for business growth and success.
Once you’re confident in what you’ve drafted, review your plan and ask a knowledgeable person to review—this can help you gain objective insight.
With your completed business plan in hand, book a time to meet with one of our ATB Business Advisors to identify your unique business and banking needs, and plan your next steps.