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Business plan development tips and template for online ventures 

Whether you have an established online business or are just about to launch into the world of ecommerce, developing a business plan for your enterprise can be a very handy document to have.

This article details why you should have a business plan, how a simple plan can be structured and also includes download details for a very basic free business plan template in PDF and Word format you can use as a rough draft template during development.

Why develop a business plan?

For new and existing online entrepreneurs, a business plan can help you focus on what your business is about, what it seeks to achieve and the strategies to be used in attaining those goals. It's a document you can also refer back to regularly in order to see if you're still on track.

A business plan can also be helpful if you need to approach your bank for a loan, can assist you if you wish to apply for grants or if you are looking to set up a in-depth partnership with a major online player. The business plan is like a resume in that it is a living document - it will change as your venture develops.

During your business plan development, you'll also be taking a much closer look at your competitors than you may have previously which can help generate new marketing ideas or identify issues where you'll need to radically change course.

Another advantage of putting together a business plan for a new venture is that as you're developing the document it may become apparent that there are fatal flaws in your original concept; forcing you to reassess, change strategy or perhaps even abandon your idea. It's much better to realize early on if a business has a poor chance of succeeding, rather than discovering this when you've sunk substantial time and capital into the project.

Business plan proposal templates and much more! Need detailed templates for a business plan? Proposal Pack is perfect for online ventures, advertising, grant, business plan templates, publishing, resume and short form contract proposals. $145.00 bonus sample proposals included free!

Business plan structure

Business plan writing can seem rather daunting, so starting out with a simple format can act as a stepping stone to more complex documents. The application for the plan will determine its structure, but the following format will provide a solid base that can be easily built upon depending upon the circumstances.

Cover Sheet

This should be fairly simple and tidy and contain:

  • Name of business

  • Who the plan is being prepared for

  • Contact details of business owners

  • Table of Contents

Executive Summary

Although this is the second page, it's the page you should write last. Basically it will contain the highlights of your plan and a summary of your business, products and services in an upbeat fashion. Your potential partners or financiers may be busy people and not bother to look through the entire plan initially, but a good executive summary can grab their attention and encourage them to give better consideration to your proposal.

Description of business

  • Legal structure (sole trader, incorporated etc.)

  • Briefly describe your products and services

  • What issues does your business address for the consumer?

  • Who are your existing competitors and why is what you are offering superior?

  • What are the goals of your business?

  • What is the philosophy behind your business?

Products and services

A more in depth look at your flagship products and services along with photos and pricing. While this is somewhat of a marketing spiel, don't go overboard with spin or hype; be realistic.

Market and marketing

A lot of information will be provided here, so break it down into sub-headings.

  • Describe the profile of your target customer. Depending on whether your business targets consumers or other businesses, this can include info on such points as age, gender, location, income/revenue level, occupation (or industry), business type and education. 

  • How big is your target market?

  • Is the target market growing, declining or stagnant?

  • What are some of the other trends in this market and how will you address those?

  • How much of that target market do you believe you can capture and how long will it take you to do so?

  • How will you market to these people?

  • Describe your web site and be sure to point out any special features

  • Any barriers in this market and how you'll overcome them

Business model 

This is also a quite comprehensive section, so again break it down into sub headings once you've compiled all the information

  • How will your product be distributed?

  • What methods of pre-sales, support and after sales service will you provide

  • What will be your major sources of revenue? Try to give percentages.

  • What will your profit margins be?

  • How many staff members wil/do you have and what are/will be their roles?

  • What will be your expenses? List them - this should include all facets of your operations

  • What is your projected sales forecast for the first, second and third years?

  • If it's an existing business, what is your current revenue (include breakdown)

  • Detail any legal issues in relation to your business (permits/licensing/intellectual property)

Financing sought

If you're looking for a loan or a grant, this section is pretty important. Aside from stating how much you'll need, the prospective lender or grantor will want to know exactly how their money will be spent. List these items as dot points, either as percentages or $ value. 

Key principals 

This section will include details of the owners of the business. Provide a brief biography of the major stakeholders; highlighting successes, experience and qualifications. If you have external advisors/consultants whom you utilize regularly, their details should also be included in order to bolster "street cred".

Appendix

The appendix is a place to include information related to your business such as brochures, articles, press releases, details of assets and research references.

Business plan proposal templates and much more! Need detailed templates for a business plan? Proposal Pack is perfect for online ventures, advertising, grant, business plan templates, publishing, resume and short form contract proposals. $145.00 bonus sample proposals included free!

Other business plan development tips

  • Detail is great, but ensure there's plenty of white space on pages so that the reader doesn't feel overwhelmed. Bear in mind also that while information should be complete, it shouldn't be the size of a novel. Get across what you need to in as few pages as possible

  • Images are good, but should be relevant

  • Charts and graphs never fail to impress

  • Write your base plan from the viewpoint of someone who may not be intimate with your industry

  • Be positive in all aspects, but don't overhype. If there are challenges, acknowledge them, but also include information on how that challenge is or is going to be overcome.

  • Be realistic when quoting figures such expected revenue and market share. An overly high expected revenue figure will throw up red flags to the reader

  • Quote reference/source material so the reader knows you're not pulling figures and statistics out of thin air.

You'll be including a great deal of sensitive information in your business plan, so depending upon the application, there's some detail or sections mentioned above you should omit or modify to suit the situation. 

Researching markets

So how do you find out more about your potential market? The following sources can be of assistance when researching:

- Industry associations 
- Competitor press releases
- Your suppliers
- Trade journals
- Survey company releases
- Government sites such as the Department of Commerce
- Universities

As with web development or marketing project proposals, it's hard to define a one size fits all approach to business plan development, but starting out with the above format can turn what may at first seem a horribly complex task into a more manageable undertaking.

Download a business plan template

I've created a business plan template in PDF and Word format that you may like to download - it's free! Use it as a base for creating your set of documents.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
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In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.

Copyright information.... This article is not available for reproduction without explicit written permission from Michael Bloch and Taming the Beast.net

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