• Small Business
  • How to Start a Business

How to Start a Business: A Comprehensive Guide and Essential Steps

Building an effective business launch plan

  • Search Search Please fill out this field.

Conducting Market Research

Crafting a business plan, reviewing funding options, understanding legal requirements, implementing marketing strategies, how much does it cost to start a business, what should i do before starting a business, what types of funding are available to start a business, do you need to write a business plan, the bottom line.

before starting your business plan

Starting a business in the United States involves a number of different steps, spanning legal considerations, market research, creating a business plan, securing funding, and developing a marketing strategy. It also entails decisions around a business’s location, structure, name, taxation, and registration.

This article covers the key steps involved in starting a business, as well as important aspects of the process for entrepreneurs to consider.

Key Takeaways

  • Entrepreneurs seeking to develop their own business should start by conducting market research to understand their industry space and competition, and to target customers.
  • The next step is to write a comprehensive business plan, outlining the company’s structure, vision, and strategy. Potential funders and partners may want to review the business plan in advance of signing any agreements.
  • Securing funding is crucial in launching a business. Funding can come in the form of grants, loans, venture capital, or crowdfunded money; entrepreneurs may also opt to self-fund instead of or in combination with any of these avenues.
  • Choosing a location and business structure can have many implications for legal aspects of business ownership, such as taxation, registration, and permitting, so it’s important to fully understand the regulations and requirements for the jurisdiction in which the business will operate. 
  • Another key aspect of launching a new business is having a strategic marketing plan that addresses the specifics of the business, industry, and target market.

Before starting a business, entrepreneurs should conduct market research to determine their target audience, competition, and market trends. 

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recommends researching demographic data around potential customers to understand a given consumer base and reduce business risk. It also breaks down common market considerations as follows:

  • Demand : Do people want or need this product or service?
  • Market size : How many people might be interested?
  • Economic indicators : These include income, employment rate, and spending habits of potential customers.
  • Location : Where are the target market and the business located?
  • Market saturation : How competitive is the business space, and how many similar offerings exist?
  • Pricing : What might a customer be willing to pay?

Market research should also include an analysis of the competition (including their strengths and weaknesses compared to those of the proposed business), market opportunities and barriers to entry, industry trends, and competitors’ market share .

There are various methods for conducting market research, and the usefulness of different sources and methodologies will depend on the nature of the industry and potential business. Data can come from a variety of sources: statistical agencies, economic and financial institutions, and industry sources, as well as direct consumer research through focus groups, interviews, surveys, or questionnaires.

A comprehensive business plan is like a blueprint for a business. It will help lay the foundation for business development and can assist in decision making, day-to-day operations, and growth. 

Potential investors or business partners may want to review and assess a business plan in advance of agreeing to work together. Financial institutions often request business plans as part of an application for a loan or other forms of capital. 

Business plans will differ according to the needs and nature of the company and only need to include what makes sense for the business in question. As such, they can vary in length and structure depending on their intended purpose. 

Business plans can generally be divided into two formats: traditional business plans and lean startup business plans. The latter is typically more useful for businesses that will need to adjust their planning quickly and frequently, as they are shorter and provide a higher-level overview of the company.

The process of funding a business can be as unique as the business itself—that is, it will depend on the needs and vision of the business and the current financial situation of the business owner. 

The first step in seeking funding is to calculate how much it will cost to start the business. Estimate startup costs by identifying a list of expenses and putting a number to each of them through research and requesting quotes. The SBA has a startup costs calculator for small businesses that includes common types of business expenses. 

From there, an entrepreneur will need to determine how to secure the required funding. Common funding methods include:

  • Self-funding , also known as bootstrapping  
  • Seeking funding from investors, also known as venture capital  
  • Raising money by crowdfunding
  • Securing a business loan
  • Winning a business grant

Each method will hold advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation of the business. It’s important to consider the obligations associated with any avenue of funding. For example, investors generally provide funding in exchange for a degree of ownership or control in the company, whereas self-funding may allow business owners to maintain complete control (albeit while taking on all of the risk). 

The availability of funding sources is another potential consideration. Unlike loans, grants do not have to be paid back—however, as a result, they are a highly competitive form of business funding. The federal government also does not provide grants for the purposes of starting or growing a business, although private organizations may. On the other hand, the SBA guarantees several categories of loans to support small business owners in accessing capital that may not be available through traditional lenders.

Whichever funding method (or methods) an entrepreneur decides to pursue, it’s essential to evaluate in detail how the funding will be used and lay out a future financial plan for the business, including sales projections and loan repayments , as applicable.  

Legally, businesses operating in the U.S. are subject to regulations and requirements under many jurisdictions, across local, county, state, and federal levels. Legal business requirements are often tied to the location and structure of the business, which then determine obligations around taxation, business IDs, registration, and permits.

Choosing a Business Location

The location—that is, the neighborhood, city, and state—in which a business operates will have an impact on many different aspects of running the business, such as the applicable taxes, zoning laws (for brick-and-mortar, or physical locations), and regulations.

A business needs to be registered in a certain location; this location then determines the taxes, licenses, and permits required. Other factors to consider when choosing a location might include:

  • Human factors : Such as the target audience for your business, and preferences of business owners and partners around convenience, knowledge of the area, and commuting distance
  • Regulations and restrictions : Concerning applicable jurisdictions or government agencies, including zoning laws
  • Regionally specific expenses : Such as average salaries (including required minimum wages), property or rental prices, insurance rates, utilities, and government fees and licensing
  • The tax and financial environment : Including income tax, sales tax, corporate tax, and property tax, or the availability of tax credits, incentives, or loan programs

Picking a Business Structure

The structure of a business should reflect the desired number of owners, liability characteristics, and tax status. Because these have legal and tax compliance implications , it’s important to fully understand and choose a business structure carefully and, if necessary, consult a business counselor, lawyer, and/or accountant.

Common business structures include:

  • Sole proprietorship : An unincorporated business that has just one owner, who pays personal income tax on profits
  • Partnership : Options include a limited partnership (LP) or a limited liability partnership (LLP)
  • Limited liability company (LLC) : A business structure that protects its owners from personal responsibility for its debts or liabilities
  • Corporation : Options include a C corp , S corp , B corp , closed corporation , or nonprofit

Getting a Tax ID Number

A tax ID number is like a Social Security number for a business. Whether or not a state and/or federal tax ID number is required for any given business will depend on the nature of the business, as well as the location in which the business is registered.

If a business is required to pay state taxes (such as income taxes and employment taxes), then a state tax ID will be necessary. The process and requirements around state tax IDs vary by state and can be found on individual states’ official websites. In some situations, state tax IDs can also be used for other purposes, such as protecting sole proprietors against identity theft.

A federal tax ID, also known as an employer identification number (EIN) , is required if a business:

  • Operates as a corporation or partnership
  • Pays federal taxes
  • Wants to open a business bank account
  • Applies for federal business licenses and permits
  • Files employment, excise, alcohol, tobacco, or firearms tax returns

There are further situations in which a business might need a federal tax ID number, specific to income taxation, certain types of pension plans, and working with certain types of organizations. Business owners can check with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about whether they need an EIN.

Registering a Business

Registration of a business will depend on its location and business structure, and can look quite different depending on the nature and size of the business. 

For example, small businesses may not require any steps beyond registering their business name with local and state governments, and business owners whose business name is their own legal name might not need to register at all. However, registration can include personal liability protection as well as legal and tax benefits, so it can be beneficial even if it’s not strictly required. 

Most LLCs, corporations, partnerships, and nonprofits are required to register at the state level and will require a registered agent to file on their behalf. Determining which state to register with can depend on factors such as:

  • Whether the business has a physical presence in the state
  • If the business often conducts in-person client meetings in the state
  • If a large portion of business revenue comes from the state
  • Whether the business has employees working in the state

If a business operates in more than one state, it may need to file for foreign qualification in other states in which it conducts business. In this case, the business would register in the state in which it was formed (this would be considered the domestic state), and file for foreign qualification in any additional states.

Some businesses may decide to register with the federal government if they are seeking tax-exempt status or trademark protection, but federal registration is not required for many businesses.

Overall registration requirements, costs, and documentation will vary depending on the governing jurisdictions and business structure.

Obtaining Permits

Filing for the applicable government licenses and permits will depend on the industry and nature of the business, and might include submitting an application to a federal agency, state, county, and/or city. The SBA lists federally regulated business activities alongside the corresponding license-issuing agency, while state, county, and city regulations can be found on the official government websites for each region.

Every business should have a marketing plan that outlines an overall strategy and the day-to-day tactics used to execute it. A successful marketing plan will lay out tactics for how to connect with customers and convince them to buy what the company is selling. 

Marketing plans will vary according to the specifics of the industry , target market, and business, but they should aim to include descriptions of and strategies around the following:

  • A target customer : Including market size, demographics, traits, and relevant trends
  • Unique value propositions or business differentiators : Essentially, an overview of the company’s competitive advantage with regard to employees, certifications, or offerings
  • A sales and marketing plan : Including methods, channels, and a customer’s journey through interacting with the business
  • Goals : Should cover different aspects of the marketing and sales strategy, such as social media follower growth, public relations opportunities, or sales targets
  • An execution plan : Should detail tactics and break down higher-level goals into specific actions
  • A budget : Detailing how much different marketing projects and activities will cost

The startup costs for any given business will vary greatly depending on the industry, business activity, and product or service offering. Home-based online businesses will usually cost less than those that require an office setting to meet with customers. The estimated cost can be calculated by first identifying a list of expenses and then researching and requesting quotes for each one. Use the SBA’s startup costs calculator for common types of expenses associated with starting a small business.

Entrepreneurs seeking to start their own business should fully research and understand all the legal and funding considerations involved, conduct market research, and create marketing and business plans. They will also need to secure any necessary permits, licenses, funding, and business bank accounts.

Startup capital can come in the form of loans, grants, crowdfunding, venture capital, or self-funding. Note that the federal government does not provide grant funding for the purposes of starting a business, although private sources do.

Business plans are comprehensive documents that lay out the most important information about a business. They are important references for the growth, development, and decision-making processes of a business, and financial institutions as well as potential investors and partners generally request to review them in advance of agreeing to provide funding or work together.

Starting a business is no easy feat, but research and preparation can help smooth the way. Having a firm understanding of the target market, competition, industry, business goals, business structure, funding requirements, tax and operating regulations, and marketing strategy, and conducting research and consulting experts where necessary, are all things that entrepreneurs can do to set themselves up for success.

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Market Research and Competitive Analysis .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Write Your Business Plan .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Loans .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Fund Your Business .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Pick Your Business Location .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Choose a Business Structure .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Get Federal and State Tax ID Numbers .”

Internal Revenue Service. “ Do You Need an EIN? ”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Register Your Business .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Apply for Licenses and Permits .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Marketing and Sales .”

U.S. Small Business Administration. “ Grants .”

  • How to Start a Business: A Comprehensive Guide and Essential Steps 1 of 25
  • How to Do Market Research, Types, and Example 2 of 25
  • Marketing Strategy: What It Is, How It Works, and How to Create One 3 of 25
  • Marketing in Business: Strategies and Types Explained 4 of 25
  • What Is a Marketing Plan? Types and How to Write One 5 of 25
  • Business Development: Definition, Strategies, Steps & Skills 6 of 25
  • Business Plan: What It Is, What's Included, and How to Write One 7 of 25
  • Small Business Development Center (SBDC): Meaning, Types, Impact 8 of 25
  • How to Write a Business Plan for a Loan 9 of 25
  • Business Startup Costs: It’s in the Details 10 of 25
  • Startup Capital Definition, Types, and Risks 11 of 25
  • Bootstrapping Definition, Strategies, and Pros/Cons 12 of 25
  • Crowdfunding: What It Is, How It Works, and Popular Websites 13 of 25
  • Starting a Business with No Money: How to Begin 14 of 25
  • A Comprehensive Guide to Establishing Business Credit 15 of 25
  • Equity Financing: What It Is, How It Works, Pros and Cons 16 of 25
  • Best Startup Business Loans for May 2024 17 of 25
  • Sole Proprietorship: What It Is, Pros and Cons, and Differences From an LLC 18 of 25
  • Partnership: Definition, How It Works, Taxation, and Types 19 of 25
  • What Is an LLC? Limited Liability Company Structure and Benefits Defined 20 of 25
  • Corporation: What It Is and How To Form One 21 of 25
  • Starting a Small Business: Your Complete How-to Guide 22 of 25
  • Starting an Online Business: A Step-by-Step Guide 23 of 25
  • How to Start Your Own Bookkeeping Business: Essential Tips 24 of 25
  • How to Start a Successful Dropshipping Business: A Comprehensive Guide 25 of 25

before starting your business plan

  • Terms of Service
  • Editorial Policy
  • Privacy Policy
  • Your Privacy Choices
  • Starting a Business

Our Top Picks

  • Best Small Business Loans
  • Best Business Internet Service
  • Best Online Payroll Service
  • Best Business Phone Systems

Our In-Depth Reviews

  • OnPay Payroll Review
  • ADP Payroll Review
  • Ooma Office Review
  • RingCentral Review

Explore More

  • Business Solutions
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Franchising
  • Best Accounting Software
  • Best Merchant Services Providers
  • Best Credit Card Processors
  • Best Mobile Credit Card Processors
  • Clover Review
  • Merchant One Review
  • QuickBooks Online Review
  • Xero Accounting Review
  • Financial Solutions

Human Resources

  • Best Human Resources Outsourcing Services
  • Best Time and Attendance Software
  • Best PEO Services
  • Best Business Employee Retirement Plans
  • Bambee Review
  • Rippling HR Software Review
  • TriNet Review
  • Gusto Payroll Review
  • HR Solutions

Marketing and Sales

  • Best Text Message Marketing Services
  • Best CRM Software
  • Best Email Marketing Services
  • Best Website Builders
  • Textedly Review
  • Salesforce Review
  • EZ Texting Review
  • Textline Review
  • Business Intelligence
  • Marketing Solutions
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Public Relations
  • Social Media
  • Best GPS Fleet Management Software
  • Best POS Systems
  • Best Employee Monitoring Software
  • Best Document Management Software
  • Verizon Connect Fleet GPS Review
  • Zoom Review
  • Samsara Review
  • Zoho CRM Review
  • Technology Solutions

Business Basics

  • 4 Simple Steps to Valuing Your Small Business
  • How to Write a Business Growth Plan
  • 12 Business Skills You Need to Master
  • How to Start a One-Person Business
  • FreshBooks vs. QuickBooks Comparison
  • Salesforce CRM vs. Zoho CRM
  • RingCentral vs. Zoom Comparison
  • 10 Ways to Generate More Sales Leads

12 Things You Must Do Before Starting a Business

author image

Table of Contents

When it comes to launching a new business venture, the intrepid American spirit hasn’t suffered in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the U.S. Census Bureau , a record 5.4 million new business applications were filed in 2021. It may be the right time for you, too, to embark on starting a new company. Before doing this, however, there are essential steps entrepreneurs need to take.

1. Identify a creative idea.

The most successful businesses all started from the same place: an idea. Think of a business idea as the seed of your company. You need that before you can begin adding fertilizer, watering and growing complementary plants. In other words, before you can do all the steps below, make sure you have a solid idea for your new company – it’s what your business hinges on. What is a unique service you can provide? Where is there a gap in the marketplace that you can fill? Consider these cheap business ideas for inspiration.

2. Write a business plan.

After identifying a business idea, experts agree that writing a business plan is the next step you should take. Creating a business plan displays a genuine level of commitment, but it also forces prospective business owners to answer essential and sometimes challenging questions at the start of the development process. A business plan is also the first thing any potential investor will request. It will give them a detailed overview of your proposed business venture, your level of industry expertise and understanding of the opportunity, and the financial requirements and potential upside. [Read related article: How to Find and Attract Business Investors ]

Identifying a solid idea for your new company and then writing a business plan are the critical first steps in the process of starting a business.

3. Choose a legal structure.

Selecting the proper legal structure for your business at the outset is critical, especially since it’s not an easy change to make after the fact. Each type of legal entity comes with specific requirements and restrictions, and only certain types of corporations may apply to your particular business needs. If you need help, a corporate attorney or experienced business accountant can offer timely and accurate advice for creating the proper legal structure for your proposed company.

4. Get your business registration, licenses and tax identification.

Once your business structure is in place, you need to register your business and obtain the correct licenses, taxpayer identification number (TIN) and employer identification number (EIN). There are various resources to assist with business names, filing incorporation paperwork, obtaining necessary licenses and registrations with your local municipality, and getting your federal tax information squared away. Aside from the IRS for federal tax matters, regional corporation commissions (typically at the county level) can assist any new business owner with meeting the regulatory requirements for each locale around the country. If you’re planning on hiring staff to help run your business, you’ll also need to apply for a federal tax ID or an EIN. Having an EIN will protect you and your identity, allow you to file business taxes separate from your personal taxes and help establish credit for your business.

5. Know your competition and the marketplace.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of competition. It allows business owners to innovate and evolve their products and services continuously. Knowing your business’s market, what your competition is doing and how your company fits into this landscape is critical in establishing your business. Including this information in your business plan will showcase your thorough knowledge of the industry for your proposed company. Without this information, no serious investor will rise to the occasion, and it will be hard to stand out in the marketplace. Know your industry, know your competition and understand how your business will become a differentiator in the market.

6. Finance your business.

Unless you’re an accountant, have a degree in finances or are a sophisticated investor, you’ll need some help nailing down this part of your pre-launch planning. Investors will want to know how much money your company will have to begin with and how much it will need in the future. Regardless of where your revenue will come from, list it in your business plan. Will you use your credit cards and home equity to start? Will you need a loan to get started? Are you willing to give up a percentage of your ownership in exchange for cash? Will you have sales the day you open your door? These are all critical questions to address.

Find out the best business loan and financing options so you can make an educated decision on how to finance your new business.

No matter how you plan to finance your business, include that information in your business plan. There are many investors out there, and they’ve seen it all. Don’t assume that no one will invest just because you aren’t also bringing some capital to the table. Investors typically want to know three things:

  • For how long?
  • What is the exit strategy?

Answer these three things to an investor’s satisfaction, and you’re very likely to strike a deal. [Read related article:  How to Know an Investor Is Offering You a Good Deal ]

7. Identify and secure a location.

Whether it’s a home office or an entire building in an industrial park, you need to know where your business will be located before you launch it. Prior to your first day of operations, you’ll want to have the following in place:

  • Phone and internet service
  • Business directory listings
  • Lease or purchase agreement for your workspace

If you haven’t identified or secured a location for your business before meeting with investors, don’t fret. Investors, bankers and legal counsel generally don’t see the lack of a specific location early on as a dealbreaker or red flag.

8. Get proper insurance.

Selecting the right business insurance for your company is not a decision to make lightly. There are several types of insurance to consider, including health, auto, directors and officers, liability, performance bond, travel (including AD&D) and life. In addition to understanding the differences between the available options, it’s important to identify any local regulations that might require your type of business to carry certain types of insurance. For example, if you’re starting a carpentry or plumbing company, you’ll need liability insurance, which typically isn’t necessary for businesses in other industries. Learn what else you need to keep in mind when choosing business insurance .

9. Obtain legal counsel.

Whether you want to have in-house counsel or hire an attorney as needed, your business needs to have access to legal advice. You may need legal representation specializing in corporate, tax, intellectual property, labor, or international law. Wherever regulatory requirements demand compliance, asking a lawyer to review and sign off on this part of your business will save you time and money and protect you from potential legal ramifications.

10. Establish a web presence.

In addition to securing your business’s physical location, you’ll also need to establish a virtual presence on the web. First, you’ll want to register a domain name that matches your business’s name so you’re ready to build your website when the time comes. Then, once you’re ready to develop your website, research the options available to ensure you’re selecting the best website builder that will meet your immediate needs and be able to support your desired functionality in the future, such as online ordering capabilities. Enlist the help of an SEO expert before starting so that they can ensure your website’s design and content are fully optimized. You may also want to consider the cost of starting an online business when deciding which kind of company to start.

In addition to a website, set up accounts to build a social media presence for your business . A consistent username across all of your preferred social channels will build credibility for your business. Read more about the importance of social media for small businesses .

11. Use local and national business resources.

There are plenty of local, county and national resources to make sure your business name is available, verify the legal structure you’ve chosen is correct and in compliance with location-specific ordinances, and advise on the different business loan options and other funds available to entrepreneurs. You can also refer to resources provided by your local corporation commission, the Small Business Administration and the IRS throughout the planning process.

12. Create a marketing plan.

Writing a marketing plan that complements your overall business plan will help ensure your new business’s success. A fully optimized website should be at the center of your marketing plan, even if you’re planning a brick-and-mortar business. Review these additional tips for creating a marketing strategy for your business.


Get Weekly 5-Minute Business Advice

B. newsletter is your digest of bite-sized news, thought & brand leadership, and entertainment. All in one email.

Our mission is to help you take your team, your business and your career to the next level. Whether you're here for product recommendations, research or career advice, we're happy you're here!

  • Sources of Business Finance
  • Small Business Loans
  • Small Business Grants
  • Crowdfunding Sites
  • How to Get a Business Loan
  • Small Business Insurance Providers
  • Best Factoring Companies
  • Types of Bank Accounts
  • Best Banks for Small Business
  • Best Business Bank Accounts
  • Open a Business Bank Account
  • Bank Accounts for Small Businesses
  • Free Business Checking Accounts
  • Best Business Credit Cards
  • Get a Business Credit Card
  • Business Credit Cards for Bad Credit
  • Build Business Credit Fast
  • Business Loan Eligibility Criteria
  • Small-Business Bookkeeping Basics
  • How to Set Financial Goals
  • Business Loan Calculators
  • How to Calculate ROI
  • Calculate Net Income
  • Calculate Working Capital
  • Calculate Operating Income
  • Calculate Net Present Value (NPV)
  • Calculate Payroll Tax

How to Write a Business Plan in 9 Steps (+ Template and Examples)

' src=

Every successful business has one thing in common, a good and well-executed business plan. A business plan is more than a document, it is a complete guide that outlines the goals your business wants to achieve, including its financial goals . It helps you analyze results, make strategic decisions, show your business operations and growth.

If you want to start a business or already have one and need to pitch it to investors for funding, writing a good business plan improves your chances of attracting financiers. As a startup, if you want to secure loans from financial institutions, part of the requirements involve submitting your business plan.

Writing a business plan does not have to be a complicated or time-consuming process. In this article, you will learn the step-by-step process for writing a successful business plan.

You will also learn what you need a business plan for, tips and strategies for writing a convincing business plan, business plan examples and templates that will save you tons of time, and the alternatives to the traditional business plan.

Let’s get started.

What Do You Need A Business Plan For?

Businesses create business plans for different purposes such as to secure funds, monitor business growth, measure your marketing strategies, and measure your business success.

1. Secure Funds

One of the primary reasons for writing a business plan is to secure funds, either from financial institutions/agencies or investors.

For you to effectively acquire funds, your business plan must contain the key elements of your business plan . For example, your business plan should include your growth plans, goals you want to achieve, and milestones you have recorded.

A business plan can also attract new business partners that are willing to contribute financially and intellectually. If you are writing a business plan to a bank, your project must show your traction , that is, the proof that you can pay back any loan borrowed.

Also, if you are writing to an investor, your plan must contain evidence that you can effectively utilize the funds you want them to invest in your business. Here, you are using your business plan to persuade a group or an individual that your business is a source of a good investment.

2. Monitor Business Growth

A business plan can help you track cash flows in your business. It steers your business to greater heights. A business plan capable of tracking business growth should contain:

  • The business goals
  • Methods to achieve the goals
  • Time-frame for attaining those goals

A good business plan should guide you through every step in achieving your goals. It can also track the allocation of assets to every aspect of the business. You can tell when you are spending more than you should on a project.

You can compare a business plan to a written GPS. It helps you manage your business and hints at the right time to expand your business.

3. Measure Business Success

A business plan can help you measure your business success rate. Some small-scale businesses are thriving better than more prominent companies because of their track record of success.

Right from the onset of your business operation, set goals and work towards them. Write a plan to guide you through your procedures. Use your plan to measure how much you have achieved and how much is left to attain.

You can also weigh your success by monitoring the position of your brand relative to competitors. On the other hand, a business plan can also show you why you have not achieved a goal. It can tell if you have elapsed the time frame you set to attain a goal.

4. Document Your Marketing Strategies

You can use a business plan to document your marketing plans. Every business should have an effective marketing plan.

Competition mandates every business owner to go the extraordinary mile to remain relevant in the market. Your business plan should contain your marketing strategies that work. You can measure the success rate of your marketing plans.

In your business plan, your marketing strategy must answer the questions:

  • How do you want to reach your target audience?
  • How do you plan to retain your customers?
  • What is/are your pricing plans?
  • What is your budget for marketing?

Business Plan Infographic

How to Write a Business Plan Step-by-Step

1. create your executive summary.

The executive summary is a snapshot of your business or a high-level overview of your business purposes and plans . Although the executive summary is the first section in your business plan, most people write it last. The length of the executive summary is not more than two pages.

Executive Summary of the business plan

Generally, there are nine sections in a business plan, the executive summary should condense essential ideas from the other eight sections.

A good executive summary should do the following:

  • A Snapshot of Growth Potential. Briefly inform the reader about your company and why it will be successful)
  • Contain your Mission Statement which explains what the main objective or focus of your business is.
  • Product Description and Differentiation. Brief description of your products or services and why it is different from other solutions in the market.
  • The Team. Basic information about your company’s leadership team and employees
  • Business Concept. A solid description of what your business does.
  • Target Market. The customers you plan to sell to.
  • Marketing Strategy. Your plans on reaching and selling to your customers
  • Current Financial State. Brief information about what revenue your business currently generates.
  • Projected Financial State. Brief information about what you foresee your business revenue to be in the future.

The executive summary is the make-or-break section of your business plan. If your summary cannot in less than two pages cannot clearly describe how your business will solve a particular problem of your target audience and make a profit, your business plan is set on a faulty foundation.

Avoid using the executive summary to hype your business, instead, focus on helping the reader understand the what and how of your plan.

View the executive summary as an opportunity to introduce your vision for your company. You know your executive summary is powerful when it can answer these key questions:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What sector or industry are you in?
  • What are your products and services?
  • What is the future of your industry?
  • Is your company scaleable?
  • Who are the owners and leaders of your company? What are their backgrounds and experience levels?
  • What is the motivation for starting your company?
  • What are the next steps?

Writing the executive summary last although it is the most important section of your business plan is an excellent idea. The reason why is because it is a high-level overview of your business plan. It is the section that determines whether potential investors and lenders will read further or not.

The executive summary can be a stand-alone document that covers everything in your business plan. It is not uncommon for investors to request only the executive summary when evaluating your business. If the information in the executive summary impresses them, they will ask for the complete business plan.

If you are writing your business plan for your planning purposes, you do not need to write the executive summary.

2. Add Your Company Overview

The company overview or description is the next section in your business plan after the executive summary. It describes what your business does.

Adding your company overview can be tricky especially when your business is still in the planning stages. Existing businesses can easily summarize their current operations but may encounter difficulties trying to explain what they plan to become.

Your company overview should contain the following:

  • What products and services you will provide
  • Geographical markets and locations your company have a presence
  • What you need to run your business
  • Who your target audience or customers are
  • Who will service your customers
  • Your company’s purpose, mission, and vision
  • Information about your company’s founders
  • Who the founders are
  • Notable achievements of your company so far

When creating a company overview, you have to focus on three basics: identifying your industry, identifying your customer, and explaining the problem you solve.

If you are stuck when creating your company overview, try to answer some of these questions that pertain to you.

  • Who are you targeting? (The answer is not everyone)
  • What pain point does your product or service solve for your customers that they will be willing to spend money on resolving?
  • How does your product or service overcome that pain point?
  • Where is the location of your business?
  • What products, equipment, and services do you need to run your business?
  • How is your company’s product or service different from your competition in the eyes of your customers?
  • How many employees do you need and what skills do you require them to have?

After answering some or all of these questions, you will get more than enough information you need to write your company overview or description section. When writing this section, describe what your company does for your customers.

It describes what your business does

The company description or overview section contains three elements: mission statement, history, and objectives.

  • Mission Statement

The mission statement refers to the reason why your business or company is existing. It goes beyond what you do or sell, it is about the ‘why’. A good mission statement should be emotional and inspirational.

Your mission statement should follow the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid). For example, Shopify’s mission statement is “Make commerce better for everyone.”

When describing your company’s history, make it simple and avoid the temptation of tying it to a defensive narrative. Write it in the manner you would a profile. Your company’s history should include the following information:

  • Founding Date
  • Major Milestones
  • Location(s)
  • Flagship Products or Services
  • Number of Employees
  • Executive Leadership Roles

When you fill in this information, you use it to write one or two paragraphs about your company’s history.

Business Objectives

Your business objective must be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.) Failure to clearly identify your business objectives does not inspire confidence and makes it hard for your team members to work towards a common purpose.

3. Perform Market and Competitive Analyses to Proof a Big Enough Business Opportunity

The third step in writing a business plan is the market and competitive analysis section. Every business, no matter the size, needs to perform comprehensive market and competitive analyses before it enters into a market.

Performing market and competitive analyses are critical for the success of your business. It helps you avoid entering the right market with the wrong product, or vice versa. Anyone reading your business plans, especially financiers and financial institutions will want to see proof that there is a big enough business opportunity you are targeting.

This section is where you describe the market and industry you want to operate in and show the big opportunities in the market that your business can leverage to make a profit. If you noticed any unique trends when doing your research, show them in this section.

Market analysis alone is not enough, you have to add competitive analysis to strengthen this section. There are already businesses in the industry or market, how do you plan to take a share of the market from them?

You have to clearly illustrate the competitive landscape in your business plan. Are there areas your competitors are doing well? Are there areas where they are not doing so well? Show it.

Make it clear in this section why you are moving into the industry and what weaknesses are present there that you plan to explain. How are your competitors going to react to your market entry? How do you plan to get customers? Do you plan on taking your competitors' competitors, tap into other sources for customers, or both?

Illustrate the competitive landscape as well. What are your competitors doing well and not so well?

Answering these questions and thoughts will aid your market and competitive analysis of the opportunities in your space. Depending on how sophisticated your industry is, or the expectations of your financiers, you may need to carry out a more comprehensive market and competitive analysis to prove that big business opportunity.

Instead of looking at the market and competitive analyses as one entity, separating them will make the research even more comprehensive.

Market Analysis

Market analysis, boarding speaking, refers to research a business carried out on its industry, market, and competitors. It helps businesses gain a good understanding of their target market and the outlook of their industry. Before starting a company, it is vital to carry out market research to find out if the market is viable.

Market Analysis for Online Business

The market analysis section is a key part of the business plan. It is the section where you identify who your best clients or customers are. You cannot omit this section, without it your business plan is incomplete.

A good market analysis will tell your readers how you fit into the existing market and what makes you stand out. This section requires in-depth research, it will probably be the most time-consuming part of the business plan to write.

  • Market Research

To create a compelling market analysis that will win over investors and financial institutions, you have to carry out thorough market research . Your market research should be targeted at your primary target market for your products or services. Here is what you want to find out about your target market.

  • Your target market’s needs or pain points
  • The existing solutions for their pain points
  • Geographic Location
  • Demographics

The purpose of carrying out a marketing analysis is to get all the information you need to show that you have a solid and thorough understanding of your target audience.

Only after you have fully understood the people you plan to sell your products or services to, can you evaluate correctly if your target market will be interested in your products or services.

You can easily convince interested parties to invest in your business if you can show them you thoroughly understand the market and show them that there is a market for your products or services.

How to Quantify Your Target Market

One of the goals of your marketing research is to understand who your ideal customers are and their purchasing power. To quantify your target market, you have to determine the following:

  • Your Potential Customers: They are the people you plan to target. For example, if you sell accounting software for small businesses , then anyone who runs an enterprise or large business is unlikely to be your customers. Also, individuals who do not have a business will most likely not be interested in your product.
  • Total Households: If you are selling household products such as heating and air conditioning systems, determining the number of total households is more important than finding out the total population in the area you want to sell to. The logic is simple, people buy the product but it is the household that uses it.
  • Median Income: You need to know the median income of your target market. If you target a market that cannot afford to buy your products and services, your business will not last long.
  • Income by Demographics: If your potential customers belong to a certain age group or gender, determining income levels by demographics is necessary. For example, if you sell men's clothes, your target audience is men.

What Does a Good Market Analysis Entail?

Your business does not exist on its own, it can only flourish within an industry and alongside competitors. Market analysis takes into consideration your industry, target market, and competitors. Understanding these three entities will drastically improve your company’s chances of success.

Market Analysis Steps

You can view your market analysis as an examination of the market you want to break into and an education on the emerging trends and themes in that market. Good market analyses include the following:

  • Industry Description. You find out about the history of your industry, the current and future market size, and who the largest players/companies are in your industry.
  • Overview of Target Market. You research your target market and its characteristics. Who are you targeting? Note, it cannot be everyone, it has to be a specific group. You also have to find out all information possible about your customers that can help you understand how and why they make buying decisions.
  • Size of Target Market: You need to know the size of your target market, how frequently they buy, and the expected quantity they buy so you do not risk overproducing and having lots of bad inventory. Researching the size of your target market will help you determine if it is big enough for sustained business or not.
  • Growth Potential: Before picking a target market, you want to be sure there are lots of potential for future growth. You want to avoid going for an industry that is declining slowly or rapidly with almost zero growth potential.
  • Market Share Potential: Does your business stand a good chance of taking a good share of the market?
  • Market Pricing and Promotional Strategies: Your market analysis should give you an idea of the price point you can expect to charge for your products and services. Researching your target market will also give you ideas of pricing strategies you can implement to break into the market or to enjoy maximum profits.
  • Potential Barriers to Entry: One of the biggest benefits of conducting market analysis is that it shows you every potential barrier to entry your business will likely encounter. It is a good idea to discuss potential barriers to entry such as changing technology. It informs readers of your business plan that you understand the market.
  • Research on Competitors: You need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and how you can exploit them for the benefit of your business. Find patterns and trends among your competitors that make them successful, discover what works and what doesn’t, and see what you can do better.

The market analysis section is not just for talking about your target market, industry, and competitors. You also have to explain how your company can fill the hole you have identified in the market.

Here are some questions you can answer that can help you position your product or service in a positive light to your readers.

  • Is your product or service of superior quality?
  • What additional features do you offer that your competitors do not offer?
  • Are you targeting a ‘new’ market?

Basically, your market analysis should include an analysis of what already exists in the market and an explanation of how your company fits into the market.

Competitive Analysis

In the competitive analysis section, y ou have to understand who your direct and indirect competitions are, and how successful they are in the marketplace. It is the section where you assess the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, the advantage(s) they possess in the market and show the unique features or qualities that make you different from your competitors.

Four Steps to Create a Competitive Marketing Analysis

Many businesses do market analysis and competitive analysis together. However, to fully understand what the competitive analysis entails, it is essential to separate it from the market analysis.

Competitive analysis for your business can also include analysis on how to overcome barriers to entry in your target market.

The primary goal of conducting a competitive analysis is to distinguish your business from your competitors. A strong competitive analysis is essential if you want to convince potential funding sources to invest in your business. You have to show potential investors and lenders that your business has what it takes to compete in the marketplace successfully.

Competitive analysis will s how you what the strengths of your competition are and what they are doing to maintain that advantage.

When doing your competitive research, you first have to identify your competitor and then get all the information you can about them. The idea of spending time to identify your competitor and learn everything about them may seem daunting but it is well worth it.

Find answers to the following questions after you have identified who your competitors are.

  • What are your successful competitors doing?
  • Why is what they are doing working?
  • Can your business do it better?
  • What are the weaknesses of your successful competitors?
  • What are they not doing well?
  • Can your business turn its weaknesses into strengths?
  • How good is your competitors’ customer service?
  • Where do your competitors invest in advertising?
  • What sales and pricing strategies are they using?
  • What marketing strategies are they using?
  • What kind of press coverage do they get?
  • What are their customers saying about your competitors (both the positive and negative)?

If your competitors have a website, it is a good idea to visit their websites for more competitors’ research. Check their “About Us” page for more information.

How to Perform Competitive Analysis

If you are presenting your business plan to investors, you need to clearly distinguish yourself from your competitors. Investors can easily tell when you have not properly researched your competitors.

Take time to think about what unique qualities or features set you apart from your competitors. If you do not have any direct competition offering your product to the market, it does not mean you leave out the competitor analysis section blank. Instead research on other companies that are providing a similar product, or whose product is solving the problem your product solves.

The next step is to create a table listing the top competitors you want to include in your business plan. Ensure you list your business as the last and on the right. What you just created is known as the competitor analysis table.

Direct vs Indirect Competition

You cannot know if your product or service will be a fit for your target market if you have not understood your business and the competitive landscape.

There is no market you want to target where you will not encounter competition, even if your product is innovative. Including competitive analysis in your business plan is essential.

If you are entering an established market, you need to explain how you plan to differentiate your products from the available options in the market. Also, include a list of few companies that you view as your direct competitors The competition you face in an established market is your direct competition.

In situations where you are entering a market with no direct competition, it does not mean there is no competition there. Consider your indirect competition that offers substitutes for the products or services you offer.

For example, if you sell an innovative SaaS product, let us say a project management software , a company offering time management software is your indirect competition.

There is an easy way to find out who your indirect competitors are in the absence of no direct competitors. You simply have to research how your potential customers are solving the problems that your product or service seeks to solve. That is your direct competition.

Factors that Differentiate Your Business from the Competition

There are three main factors that any business can use to differentiate itself from its competition. They are cost leadership, product differentiation, and market segmentation.

1. Cost Leadership

A strategy you can impose to maximize your profits and gain an edge over your competitors. It involves offering lower prices than what the majority of your competitors are offering.

A common practice among businesses looking to enter into a market where there are dominant players is to use free trials or pricing to attract as many customers as possible to their offer.

2. Product Differentiation

Your product or service should have a unique selling proposition (USP) that your competitors do not have or do not stress in their marketing.

Part of the marketing strategy should involve making your products unique and different from your competitors. It does not have to be different from your competitors, it can be the addition to a feature or benefit that your competitors do not currently have.

3. Market Segmentation

As a new business seeking to break into an industry, you will gain more success from focusing on a specific niche or target market, and not the whole industry.

If your competitors are focused on a general need or target market, you can differentiate yourself from them by having a small and hyper-targeted audience. For example, if your competitors are selling men’s clothes in their online stores , you can sell hoodies for men.

4. Define Your Business and Management Structure

The next step in your business plan is your business and management structure. It is the section where you describe the legal structure of your business and the team running it.

Your business is only as good as the management team that runs it, while the management team can only strive when there is a proper business and management structure in place.

If your company is a sole proprietor or a limited liability company (LLC), a general or limited partnership, or a C or an S corporation, state it clearly in this section.

Use an organizational chart to show the management structure in your business. Clearly show who is in charge of what area in your company. It is where you show how each key manager or team leader’s unique experience can contribute immensely to the success of your company. You can also opt to add the resumes and CVs of the key players in your company.

The business and management structure section should show who the owner is, and other owners of the businesses (if the business has other owners). For businesses or companies with multiple owners, include the percent ownership of the various owners and clearly show the extent of each others’ involvement in the company.

Investors want to know who is behind the company and the team running it to determine if it has the right management to achieve its set goals.

Management Team

The management team section is where you show that you have the right team in place to successfully execute the business operations and ideas. Take time to create the management structure for your business. Think about all the important roles and responsibilities that you need managers for to grow your business.

Include brief bios of each key team member and ensure you highlight only the relevant information that is needed. If your team members have background industry experience or have held top positions for other companies and achieved success while filling that role, highlight it in this section.

Create Management Team For Business Plan

A common mistake that many startups make is assigning C-level titles such as (CMO and CEO) to everyone on their team. It is unrealistic for a small business to have those titles. While it may look good on paper for the ego of your team members, it can prevent investors from investing in your business.

Instead of building an unrealistic management structure that does not fit your business reality, it is best to allow business titles to grow as the business grows. Starting everyone at the top leaves no room for future change or growth, which is bad for productivity.

Your management team does not have to be complete before you start writing your business plan. You can have a complete business plan even when there are managerial positions that are empty and need filling.

If you have management gaps in your team, simply show the gaps and indicate you are searching for the right candidates for the role(s). Investors do not expect you to have a full management team when you are just starting your business.

Key Questions to Answer When Structuring Your Management Team

  • Who are the key leaders?
  • What experiences, skills, and educational backgrounds do you expect your key leaders to have?
  • Do your key leaders have industry experience?
  • What positions will they fill and what duties will they perform in those positions?
  • What level of authority do the key leaders have and what are their responsibilities?
  • What is the salary for the various management positions that will attract the ideal candidates?

Additional Tips for Writing the Management Structure Section

1. Avoid Adding ‘Ghost’ Names to Your Management Team

There is always that temptation to include a ‘ghost’ name to your management team to attract and influence investors to invest in your business. Although the presence of these celebrity management team members may attract the attention of investors, it can cause your business to lose any credibility if you get found out.

Seasoned investors will investigate further the members of your management team before committing fully to your business If they find out that the celebrity name used does not play any actual role in your business, they will not invest and may write you off as dishonest.

2. Focus on Credentials But Pay Extra Attention to the Roles

Investors want to know the experience that your key team members have to determine if they can successfully reach the company’s growth and financial goals.

While it is an excellent boost for your key management team to have the right credentials, you also want to pay extra attention to the roles they will play in your company.

Organizational Chart

Organizational chart Infographic

Adding an organizational chart in this section of your business plan is not necessary, you can do it in your business plan’s appendix.

If you are exploring funding options, it is not uncommon to get asked for your organizational chart. The function of an organizational chart goes beyond raising money, you can also use it as a useful planning tool for your business.

An organizational chart can help you identify how best to structure your management team for maximum productivity and point you towards key roles you need to fill in the future.

You can use the organizational chart to show your company’s internal management structure such as the roles and responsibilities of your management team, and relationships that exist between them.

5. Describe Your Product and Service Offering

In your business plan, you have to describe what you sell or the service you plan to offer. It is the next step after defining your business and management structure. The products and services section is where you sell the benefits of your business.

Here you have to explain how your product or service will benefit your customers and describe your product lifecycle. It is also the section where you write down your plans for intellectual property like patent filings and copyrighting.

The research and development that you are undertaking for your product or service need to be explained in detail in this section. However, do not get too technical, sell the general idea and its benefits.

If you have any diagrams or intricate designs of your product or service, do not include them in the products and services section. Instead, leave them for the addendum page. Also, if you are leaving out diagrams or designs for the addendum, ensure you add this phrase “For more detail, visit the addendum Page #.”

Your product and service section in your business plan should include the following:

  • A detailed explanation that clearly shows how your product or service works.
  • The pricing model for your product or service.
  • Your business’ sales and distribution strategy.
  • The ideal customers that want your product or service.
  • The benefits of your products and services.
  • Reason(s) why your product or service is a better alternative to what your competitors are currently offering in the market.
  • Plans for filling the orders you receive
  • If you have current or pending patents, copyrights, and trademarks for your product or service, you can also discuss them in this section.

What to Focus On When Describing the Benefits, Lifecycle, and Production Process of Your Products or Services

In the products and services section, you have to distill the benefits, lifecycle, and production process of your products and services.

When describing the benefits of your products or services, here are some key factors to focus on.

  • Unique features
  • Translating the unique features into benefits
  • The emotional, psychological, and practical payoffs to attract customers
  • Intellectual property rights or any patents

When describing the product life cycle of your products or services, here are some key factors to focus on.

  • Upsells, cross-sells, and down-sells
  • Time between purchases
  • Plans for research and development.

When describing the production process for your products or services, you need to think about the following:

  • The creation of new or existing products and services.
  • The sources for the raw materials or components you need for production.
  • Assembling the products
  • Maintaining quality control
  • Supply-chain logistics (receiving the raw materials and delivering the finished products)
  • The day-to-day management of the production processes, bookkeeping, and inventory.

Tips for Writing the Products or Services Section of Your Business Plan

1. Avoid Technical Descriptions and Industry Buzzwords

The products and services section of your business plan should clearly describe the products and services that your company provides. However, it is not a section to include technical jargons that anyone outside your industry will not understand.

A good practice is to remove highly detailed or technical descriptions in favor of simple terms. Industry buzzwords are not necessary, if there are simpler terms you can use, then use them. If you plan to use your business plan to source funds, making the product or service section so technical will do you no favors.

2. Describe How Your Products or Services Differ from Your Competitors

When potential investors look at your business plan, they want to know how the products and services you are offering differ from that of your competition. Differentiating your products or services from your competition in a way that makes your solution more attractive is critical.

If you are going the innovative path and there is no market currently for your product or service, you need to describe in this section why the market needs your product or service.

For example, overnight delivery was a niche business that only a few companies were participating in. Federal Express (FedEx) had to show in its business plan that there was a large opportunity for that service and they justified why the market needed that service.

3. Long or Short Products or Services Section

Should your products or services section be short? Does the long products or services section attract more investors?

There are no straightforward answers to these questions. Whether your products or services section should be long or relatively short depends on the nature of your business.

If your business is product-focused, then automatically you need to use more space to describe the details of your products. However, if the product your business sells is a commodity item that relies on competitive pricing or other pricing strategies, you do not have to use up so much space to provide significant details about the product.

Likewise, if you are selling a commodity that is available in numerous outlets, then you do not have to spend time on writing a long products or services section.

The key to the success of your business is most likely the effectiveness of your marketing strategies compared to your competitors. Use more space to address that section.

If you are creating a new product or service that the market does not know about, your products or services section can be lengthy. The reason why is because you need to explain everything about the product or service such as the nature of the product, its use case, and values.

A short products or services section for an innovative product or service will not give the readers enough information to properly evaluate your business.

4. Describe Your Relationships with Vendors or Suppliers

Your business will rely on vendors or suppliers to supply raw materials or the components needed to make your products. In your products and services section, describe your relationships with your vendors and suppliers fully.

Avoid the mistake of relying on only one supplier or vendor. If that supplier or vendor fails to supply or goes out of business, you can easily face supply problems and struggle to meet your demands. Plan to set up multiple vendor or supplier relationships for better business stability.

5. Your Primary Goal Is to Convince Your Readers

The primary goal of your business plan is to convince your readers that your business is viable and to create a guide for your business to follow. It applies to the products and services section.

When drafting this section, think like the reader. See your reader as someone who has no idea about your products and services. You are using the products and services section to provide the needed information to help your reader understand your products and services. As a result, you have to be clear and to the point.

While you want to educate your readers about your products or services, you also do not want to bore them with lots of technical details. Show your products and services and not your fancy choice of words.

Your products and services section should provide the answer to the “what” question for your business. You and your management team may run the business, but it is your products and services that are the lifeblood of the business.

Key Questions to Answer When Writing your Products and Services Section

Answering these questions can help you write your products and services section quickly and in a way that will appeal to your readers.

  • Are your products existing on the market or are they still in the development stage?
  • What is your timeline for adding new products and services to the market?
  • What are the positives that make your products and services different from your competitors?
  • Do your products and services have any competitive advantage that your competitors’ products and services do not currently have?
  • Do your products or services have any competitive disadvantages that you need to overcome to compete with your competitors? If your answer is yes, state how you plan to overcome them,
  • How much does it cost to produce your products or services? How much do you plan to sell it for?
  • What is the price for your products and services compared to your competitors? Is pricing an issue?
  • What are your operating costs and will it be low enough for you to compete with your competitors and still take home a reasonable profit margin?
  • What is your plan for acquiring your products? Are you involved in the production of your products or services?
  • Are you the manufacturer and produce all the components you need to create your products? Do you assemble your products by using components supplied by other manufacturers? Do you purchase your products directly from suppliers or wholesalers?
  • Do you have a steady supply of products that you need to start your business? (If your business is yet to kick-off)
  • How do you plan to distribute your products or services to the market?

You can also hint at the marketing or promotion plans you have for your products or services such as how you plan to build awareness or retain customers. The next section is where you can go fully into details about your business’s marketing and sales plan.

6. Show and Explain Your Marketing and Sales Plan

Providing great products and services is wonderful, but it means nothing if you do not have a marketing and sales plan to inform your customers about them. Your marketing and sales plan is critical to the success of your business.

The sales and marketing section is where you show and offer a detailed explanation of your marketing and sales plan and how you plan to execute it. It covers your pricing plan, proposed advertising and promotion activities, activities and partnerships you need to make your business a success, and the benefits of your products and services.

There are several ways you can approach your marketing and sales strategy. Ideally, your marketing and sales strategy has to fit the unique needs of your business.

In this section, you describe how the plans your business has for attracting and retaining customers, and the exact process for making a sale happen. It is essential to thoroughly describe your complete marketing and sales plans because you are still going to reference this section when you are making financial projections for your business.

Outline Your Business’ Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

The sales and marketing section is where you outline your business’s unique selling proposition (USP). When you are developing your unique selling proposition, think about the strongest reasons why people should buy from you over your competition. That reason(s) is most likely a good fit to serve as your unique selling proposition (USP).

Target Market and Target Audience

Plans on how to get your products or services to your target market and how to get your target audience to buy them go into this section. You also highlight the strengths of your business here, particularly what sets them apart from your competition.

Target Market Vs Target Audience

Before you start writing your marketing and sales plan, you need to have properly defined your target audience and fleshed out your buyer persona. If you do not first understand the individual you are marketing to, your marketing and sales plan will lack any substance and easily fall.

Creating a Smart Marketing and Sales Plan

Marketing your products and services is an investment that requires you to spend money. Like any other investment, you have to generate a good return on investment (ROI) to justify using that marketing and sales plan. Good marketing and sales plans bring in high sales and profits to your company.

Avoid spending money on unproductive marketing channels. Do your research and find out the best marketing and sales plan that works best for your company.

Your marketing and sales plan can be broken into different parts: your positioning statement, pricing, promotion, packaging, advertising, public relations, content marketing, social media, and strategic alliances.

Your Positioning Statement

Your positioning statement is the first part of your marketing and sales plan. It refers to the way you present your company to your customers.

Are you the premium solution, the low-price solution, or are you the intermediary between the two extremes in the market? What do you offer that your competitors do not that can give you leverage in the market?

Before you start writing your positioning statement, you need to spend some time evaluating the current market conditions. Here are some questions that can help you to evaluate the market

  • What are the unique features or benefits that you offer that your competitors lack?
  • What are your customers’ primary needs and wants?
  • Why should a customer choose you over your competition? How do you plan to differentiate yourself from the competition?
  • How does your company’s solution compare with other solutions in the market?

After answering these questions, then you can start writing your positioning statement. Your positioning statement does not have to be in-depth or too long.

All you need to explain with your positioning statement are two focus areas. The first is the position of your company within the competitive landscape. The other focus area is the core value proposition that sets your company apart from other alternatives that your ideal customer might consider.

Here is a simple template you can use to develop a positioning statement.

For [description of target market] who [need of target market], [product or service] [how it meets the need]. Unlike [top competition], it [most essential distinguishing feature].

For example, let’s create the positioning statement for fictional accounting software and QuickBooks alternative , TBooks.

“For small business owners who need accounting services, TBooks is an accounting software that helps small businesses handle their small business bookkeeping basics quickly and easily. Unlike Wave, TBooks gives small businesses access to live sessions with top accountants.”

You can edit this positioning statement sample and fill it with your business details.

After writing your positioning statement, the next step is the pricing of your offerings. The overall positioning strategy you set in your positioning statement will often determine how you price your products or services.

Pricing is a powerful tool that sends a strong message to your customers. Failure to get your pricing strategy right can make or mar your business. If you are targeting a low-income audience, setting a premium price can result in low sales.

You can use pricing to communicate your positioning to your customers. For example, if you are offering a product at a premium price, you are sending a message to your customers that the product belongs to the premium category.

Basic Rules to Follow When Pricing Your Offering

Setting a price for your offering involves more than just putting a price tag on it. Deciding on the right pricing for your offering requires following some basic rules. They include covering your costs, primary and secondary profit center pricing, and matching the market rate.

  • Covering Your Costs: The price you set for your products or service should be more than it costs you to produce and deliver them. Every business has the same goal, to make a profit. Depending on the strategy you want to use, there are exceptions to this rule. However, the vast majority of businesses follow this rule.
  • Primary and Secondary Profit Center Pricing: When a company sets its price above the cost of production, it is making that product its primary profit center. A company can also decide not to make its initial price its primary profit center by selling below or at even with its production cost. It rather depends on the support product or even maintenance that is associated with the initial purchase to make its profit. The initial price thus became its secondary profit center.
  • Matching the Market Rate: A good rule to follow when pricing your products or services is to match your pricing with consumer demand and expectations. If you price your products or services beyond the price your customer perceives as the ideal price range, you may end up with no customers. Pricing your products too low below what your customer perceives as the ideal price range may lead to them undervaluing your offering.

Pricing Strategy

Your pricing strategy influences the price of your offering. There are several pricing strategies available for you to choose from when examining the right pricing strategy for your business. They include cost-plus pricing, market-based pricing, value pricing, and more.

Pricing strategy influences the price of offering

  • Cost-plus Pricing: This strategy is one of the simplest and oldest pricing strategies. Here you consider the cost of producing a unit of your product and then add a profit to it to arrive at your market price. It is an effective pricing strategy for manufacturers because it helps them cover their initial costs. Another name for the cost-plus pricing strategy is the markup pricing strategy.
  • Market-based Pricing: This pricing strategy analyses the market including competitors’ pricing and then sets a price based on what the market is expecting. With this pricing strategy, you can either set your price at the low-end or high-end of the market.
  • Value Pricing: This pricing strategy involves setting a price based on the value you are providing to your customer. When adopting a value-based pricing strategy, you have to set a price that your customers are willing to pay. Service-based businesses such as small business insurance providers , luxury goods sellers, and the fashion industry use this pricing strategy.

After carefully sorting out your positioning statement and pricing, the next item to look at is your promotional strategy. Your promotional strategy explains how you plan on communicating with your customers and prospects.

As a business, you must measure all your costs, including the cost of your promotions. You also want to measure how much sales your promotions bring for your business to determine its usefulness. Promotional strategies or programs that do not lead to profit need to be removed.

There are different types of promotional strategies you can adopt for your business, they include advertising, public relations, and content marketing.


Your business plan should include your advertising plan which can be found in the marketing and sales plan section. You need to include an overview of your advertising plans such as the areas you plan to spend money on to advertise your business and offers.

Ensure that you make it clear in this section if your business will be advertising online or using the more traditional offline media, or the combination of both online and offline media. You can also include the advertising medium you want to use to raise awareness about your business and offers.

Some common online advertising mediums you can use include social media ads, landing pages, sales pages, SEO, Pay-Per-Click, emails, Google Ads, and others. Some common traditional and offline advertising mediums include word of mouth, radios, direct mail, televisions, flyers, billboards, posters, and others.

A key component of your advertising strategy is how you plan to measure the effectiveness and success of your advertising campaign. There is no point in sticking with an advertising plan or medium that does not produce results for your business in the long run.

Public Relations

A great way to reach your customers is to get the media to cover your business or product. Publicity, especially good ones, should be a part of your marketing and sales plan. In this section, show your plans for getting prominent reviews of your product from reputable publications and sources.

Your business needs that exposure to grow. If public relations is a crucial part of your promotional strategy, provide details about your public relations plan here.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is a popular promotional strategy used by businesses to inform and attract their customers. It is about teaching and educating your prospects on various topics of interest in your niche, it does not just involve informing them about the benefits and features of the products and services you have,

The Benefits of Content Marketing

Businesses publish content usually for free where they provide useful information, tips, and advice so that their target market can be made aware of the importance of their products and services. Content marketing strategies seek to nurture prospects into buyers over time by simply providing value.

Your company can create a blog where it will be publishing content for its target market. You will need to use the best website builder such as Wix and Squarespace and the best web hosting services such as Bluehost, Hostinger, and other Bluehost alternatives to create a functional blog or website.

If content marketing is a crucial part of your promotional strategy (as it should be), detail your plans under promotions.

Including high-quality images of the packaging of your product in your business plan is a lovely idea. You can add the images of the packaging of that product in the marketing and sales plan section. If you are not selling a product, then you do not need to include any worry about the physical packaging of your product.

When organizing the packaging section of your business plan, you can answer the following questions to make maximum use of this section.

  • Is your choice of packaging consistent with your positioning strategy?
  • What key value proposition does your packaging communicate? (It should reflect the key value proposition of your business)
  • How does your packaging compare to that of your competitors?

Social Media

Your 21st-century business needs to have a good social media presence. Not having one is leaving out opportunities for growth and reaching out to your prospect.

You do not have to join the thousands of social media platforms out there. What you need to do is join the ones that your customers are active on and be active there.

Most popular social media platforms

Businesses use social media to provide information about their products such as promotions, discounts, the benefits of their products, and content on their blogs.

Social media is also a platform for engaging with your customers and getting feedback about your products or services. Make no mistake, more and more of your prospects are using social media channels to find more information about companies.

You need to consider the social media channels you want to prioritize your business (prioritize the ones your customers are active in) and your branding plans in this section.

Choosing the right social media platform

Strategic Alliances

If your company plans to work closely with other companies as part of your sales and marketing plan, include it in this section. Prove details about those partnerships in your business plan if you have already established them.

Strategic alliances can be beneficial for all parties involved including your company. Working closely with another company in the form of a partnership can provide access to a different target market segment for your company.

The company you are partnering with may also gain access to your target market or simply offer a new product or service (that of your company) to its customers.

Mutually beneficial partnerships can cover the weaknesses of one company with the strength of another. You should consider strategic alliances with companies that sell complimentary products to yours. For example, if you provide printers, you can partner with a company that produces ink since the customers that buy printers from you will also need inks for printing.

Steps Involved in Creating a Marketing and Sales Plan

1. Focus on Your Target Market

Identify who your customers are, the market you want to target. Then determine the best ways to get your products or services to your potential customers.

2. Evaluate Your Competition

One of the goals of having a marketing plan is to distinguish yourself from your competition. You cannot stand out from them without first knowing them in and out.

You can know your competitors by gathering information about their products, pricing, service, and advertising campaigns.

These questions can help you know your competition.

  • What makes your competition successful?
  • What are their weaknesses?
  • What are customers saying about your competition?

3. Consider Your Brand

Customers' perception of your brand has a strong impact on your sales. Your marketing and sales plan should seek to bolster the image of your brand. Before you start marketing your business, think about the message you want to pass across about your business and your products and services.

4. Focus on Benefits

The majority of your customers do not view your product in terms of features, what they want to know is the benefits and solutions your product offers. Think about the problems your product solves and the benefits it delivers, and use it to create the right sales and marketing message.

Your marketing plan should focus on what you want your customer to get instead of what you provide. Identify those benefits in your marketing and sales plan.

5. Focus on Differentiation

Your marketing and sales plan should look for a unique angle they can take that differentiates your business from the competition, even if the products offered are similar. Some good areas of differentiation you can use are your benefits, pricing, and features.

Key Questions to Answer When Writing Your Marketing and Sales Plan

  • What is your company’s budget for sales and marketing campaigns?
  • What key metrics will you use to determine if your marketing plans are successful?
  • What are your alternatives if your initial marketing efforts do not succeed?
  • Who are the sales representatives you need to promote your products or services?
  • What are the marketing and sales channels you plan to use? How do you plan to get your products in front of your ideal customers?
  • Where will you sell your products?

You may want to include samples of marketing materials you plan to use such as print ads, website descriptions, and social media ads. While it is not compulsory to include these samples, it can help you better communicate your marketing and sales plan and objectives.

The purpose of the marketing and sales section is to answer this question “How will you reach your customers?” If you cannot convincingly provide an answer to this question, you need to rework your marketing and sales section.

7. Clearly Show Your Funding Request

If you are writing your business plan to ask for funding from investors or financial institutions, the funding request section is where you will outline your funding requirements. The funding request section should answer the question ‘How much money will your business need in the near future (3 to 5 years)?’

A good funding request section will clearly outline and explain the amount of funding your business needs over the next five years. You need to know the amount of money your business needs to make an accurate funding request.

Also, when writing your funding request, provide details of how the funds will be used over the period. Specify if you want to use the funds to buy raw materials or machinery, pay salaries, pay for advertisements, and cover specific bills such as rent and electricity.

In addition to explaining what you want to use the funds requested for, you need to clearly state the projected return on investment (ROI) . Investors and creditors want to know if your business can generate profit for them if they put funds into it.

Ensure you do not inflate the figures and stay as realistic as possible. Investors and financial institutions you are seeking funds from will do their research before investing money in your business.

If you are not sure of an exact number to request from, you can use some range of numbers as rough estimates. Add a best-case scenario and a work-case scenario to your funding request. Also, include a description of your strategic future financial plans such as selling your business or paying off debts.

Funding Request: Debt or Equity?

When making your funding request, specify the type of funding you want. Do you want debt or equity? Draw out the terms that will be applicable for the funding, and the length of time the funding request will cover.

Case for Equity

If your new business has not yet started generating profits, you are most likely preparing to sell equity in your business to raise capital at the early stage. Equity here refers to ownership. In this case, you are selling a portion of your company to raise capital.

Although this method of raising capital for your business does not put your business in debt, keep in mind that an equity owner may expect to play a key role in company decisions even if he does not hold a major stake in the company.

Most equity sales for startups are usually private transactions . If you are making a funding request by offering equity in exchange for funding, let the investor know that they will be paid a dividend (a share of the company’s profit). Also, let the investor know the process for selling their equity in your business.

Case for Debt

You may decide not to offer equity in exchange for funds, instead, you make a funding request with the promise to pay back the money borrowed at the agreed time frame.

When making a funding request with an agreement to pay back, note that you will have to repay your creditors both the principal amount borrowed and the interest on it. Financial institutions offer this type of funding for businesses.

Large companies combine both equity and debt in their capital structure. When drafting your business plan, decide if you want to offer both or one over the other.

Before you sell equity in exchange for funding in your business, consider if you are willing to accept not being in total control of your business. Also, before you seek loans in your funding request section, ensure that the terms of repayment are favorable.

You should set a clear timeline in your funding request so that potential investors and creditors can know what you are expecting. Some investors and creditors may agree to your funding request and then delay payment for longer than 30 days, meanwhile, your business needs an immediate cash injection to operate efficiently.

Additional Tips for Writing the Funding Request Section of your Business Plan

The funding request section is not necessary for every business, it is only needed by businesses who plan to use their business plan to secure funding.

If you are adding the funding request section to your business plan, provide an itemized summary of how you plan to use the funds requested. Hiring a lawyer, accountant, or other professionals may be necessary for the proper development of this section.

You should also gather and use financial statements that add credibility and support to your funding requests. Ensure that the financial statements you use should include your projected financial data such as projected cash flows, forecast statements, and expenditure budgets.

If you are an existing business, include all historical financial statements such as cash flow statements, balance sheets and income statements .

Provide monthly and quarterly financial statements for a year. If your business has records that date back beyond the one-year mark, add the yearly statements of those years. These documents are for the appendix section of your business plan.

8. Detail Your Financial Plan, Metrics, and Projections

If you used the funding request section in your business plan, supplement it with a financial plan, metrics, and projections. This section paints a picture of the past performance of your business and then goes ahead to make an informed projection about its future.

The goal of this section is to convince readers that your business is going to be a financial success. It outlines your business plan to generate enough profit to repay the loan (with interest if applicable) and to generate a decent return on investment for investors.

If you have an existing business already in operation, use this section to demonstrate stability through finance. This section should include your cash flow statements, balance sheets, and income statements covering the last three to five years. If your business has some acceptable collateral that you can use to acquire loans, list it in the financial plan, metrics, and projection section.

Apart from current financial statements, this section should also contain a prospective financial outlook that spans the next five years. Include forecasted income statements, cash flow statements, balance sheets, and capital expenditure budget.

If your business is new and is not yet generating profit, use clear and realistic projections to show the potentials of your business.

When drafting this section, research industry norms and the performance of comparable businesses. Your financial projections should cover at least five years. State the logic behind your financial projections. Remember you can always make adjustments to this section as the variables change.

The financial plan, metrics, and projection section create a baseline which your business can either exceed or fail to reach. If your business fails to reach your projections in this section, you need to understand why it failed.

Investors and loan managers spend a lot of time going through the financial plan, metrics, and projection section compared to other parts of the business plan. Ensure you spend time creating credible financial analyses for your business in this section.

Many entrepreneurs find this section daunting to write. You do not need a business degree to create a solid financial forecast for your business. Business finances, especially for startups, are not as complicated as they seem. There are several online tools and templates that make writing this section so much easier.

Use Graphs and Charts

The financial plan, metrics, and projection section is a great place to use graphs and charts to tell the financial story of your business. Charts and images make it easier to communicate your finances.

Accuracy in this section is key, ensure you carefully analyze your past financial statements properly before making financial projects.

Address the Risk Factors and Show Realistic Financial Projections

Keep your financial plan, metrics, and projection realistic. It is okay to be optimistic in your financial projection, however, you have to justify it.

You should also address the various risk factors associated with your business in this section. Investors want to know the potential risks involved, show them. You should also show your plans for mitigating those risks.

What You Should In The Financial Plan, Metrics, and Projection Section of Your Business Plan

The financial plan, metrics, and projection section of your business plan should have monthly sales and revenue forecasts for the first year. It should also include annual projections that cover 3 to 5 years.

A three-year projection is a basic requirement to have in your business plan. However, some investors may request a five-year forecast.

Your business plan should include the following financial statements: sales forecast, personnel plan, income statement, income statement, cash flow statement, balance sheet, and an exit strategy.

1. Sales Forecast

Sales forecast refers to your projections about the number of sales your business is going to record over the next few years. It is typically broken into several rows, with each row assigned to a core product or service that your business is offering.

One common mistake people make in their business plan is to break down the sales forecast section into long details. A sales forecast should forecast the high-level details.

For example, if you are forecasting sales for a payroll software provider, you could break down your forecast into target market segments or subscription categories.

Benefits of Sales Forecasting

Your sales forecast section should also have a corresponding row for each sales row to cover the direct cost or Cost of Goods Sold (COGS). The objective of these rows is to show the expenses that your business incurs in making and delivering your product or service.

Note that your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) should only cover those direct costs incurred when making your products. Other indirect expenses such as insurance, salaries, payroll tax, and rent should not be included.

For example, the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) for a restaurant is the cost of ingredients while for a consulting company it will be the cost of paper and other presentation materials.

Factors that affect sales forecasting

2. Personnel Plan

The personnel plan section is where you provide details about the payment plan for your employees. For a small business, you can easily list every position in your company and how much you plan to pay in the personnel plan.

However, for larger businesses, you have to break the personnel plan into functional groups such as sales and marketing.

The personnel plan will also include the cost of an employee beyond salary, commonly referred to as the employee burden. These costs include insurance, payroll taxes , and other essential costs incurred monthly as a result of having employees on your payroll.

True HR Cost Infographic

3. Income Statement

The income statement section shows if your business is making a profit or taking a loss. Another name for the income statement is the profit and loss (P&L). It takes data from your sales forecast and personnel plan and adds other ongoing expenses you incur while running your business.

The income statement section

Every business plan should have an income statement. It subtracts your business expenses from its earnings to show if your business is generating profit or incurring losses.

The income statement has the following items: sales, Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), gross margin, operating expenses, total operating expenses, operating income , total expenses, and net profit.

  • Sales refer to the revenue your business generates from selling its products or services. Other names for sales are income or revenue.
  • Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) refers to the total cost of selling your products. Other names for COGS are direct costs or cost of sales. Manufacturing businesses use the Costs of Goods Manufactured (COGM) .
  • Gross Margin is the figure you get when you subtract your COGS from your sales. In your income statement, you can express it as a percentage of total sales (Gross margin / Sales = Gross Margin Percent).
  • Operating Expenses refer to all the expenses you incur from running your business. It exempts the COGS because it stands alone as a core part of your income statement. You also have to exclude taxes, depreciation, and amortization. Your operating expenses include salaries, marketing expenses, research and development (R&D) expenses, and other expenses.
  • Total Operating Expenses refers to the sum of all your operating expenses including those exemptions named above under operating expenses.
  • Operating Income refers to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. It is simply known as the acronym EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). Calculating your operating income is simple, all you need to do is to subtract your COGS and total operating expenses from your sales.
  • Total Expenses refer to the sum of your operating expenses and your business’ interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.
  • Net profit shows whether your business has made a profit or taken a loss during a given timeframe.

4. Cash Flow Statement

The cash flow statement tracks the money you have in the bank at any given point. It is often confused with the income statement or the profit and loss statement. They are both different types of financial statements. The income statement calculates your profits and losses while the cash flow statement shows you how much you have in the bank.

Cash Flow Statement Example

5. Balance Sheet

The balance sheet is a financial statement that provides an overview of the financial health of your business. It contains information about the assets and liabilities of your company, and owner’s or shareholders’ equity.

You can get the net worth of your company by subtracting your company’s liabilities from its assets.

Balance sheet Formula

6. Exit Strategy

The exit strategy refers to a probable plan for selling your business either to the public in an IPO or to another company. It is the last thing you include in the financial plan, metrics, and projection section.

You can choose to omit the exit strategy from your business plan if you plan to maintain full ownership of your business and do not plan on seeking angel investment or virtual capitalist (VC) funding.

Investors may want to know what your exit plan is. They invest in your business to get a good return on investment.

Your exit strategy does not have to include long and boring details. Ensure you identify some interested parties who may be interested in buying the company if it becomes a success.

Exit Strategy Section of Business Plan Infographic

Key Questions to Answer with Your Financial Plan, Metrics, and Projection

Your financial plan, metrics, and projection section helps investors, creditors, or your internal managers to understand what your expenses are, the amount of cash you need, and what it takes to make your company profitable. It also shows what you will be doing with any funding.

You do not need to show actual financial data if you do not have one. Adding forecasts and projections to your financial statements is added proof that your strategy is feasible and shows investors you have planned properly.

Here are some key questions to answer to help you develop this section.

  • What is your sales forecast for the next year?
  • When will your company achieve a positive cash flow?
  • What are the core expenses you need to operate?
  • How much money do you need upfront to operate or grow your company?
  • How will you use the loans or investments?

9. Add an Appendix to Your Business Plan

Adding an appendix to your business plan is optional. It is a useful place to put any charts, tables, legal notes, definitions, permits, résumés, and other critical information that do not fit into other sections of your business plan.

The appendix section is where you would want to include details of a patent or patent-pending if you have one. You can always add illustrations or images of your products here. It is the last section of your business plan.

When writing your business plan, there are details you cut short or remove to prevent the entire section from becoming too lengthy. There are also details you want to include in the business plan but are not a good fit for any of the previous sections. You can add that additional information to the appendix section.

Businesses also use the appendix section to include supporting documents or other materials specially requested by investors or lenders.

You can include just about any information that supports the assumptions and statements you made in the business plan under the appendix. It is the one place in the business plan where unrelated data and information can coexist amicably.

If your appendix section is lengthy, try organizing it by adding a table of contents at the beginning of the appendix section. It is also advisable to group similar information to make it easier for the reader to access them.

A well-organized appendix section makes it easier to share your information clearly and concisely. Add footnotes throughout the rest of the business plan or make references in the plan to the documents in the appendix.

The appendix section is usually only necessary if you are seeking funding from investors or lenders, or hoping to attract partners.

People reading business plans do not want to spend time going through a heap of backup information, numbers, and charts. Keep these documents or information in the Appendix section in case the reader wants to dig deeper.

Common Items to Include in the Appendix Section of Your Business Plan

The appendix section includes documents that supplement or support the information or claims given in other sections of the business plans. Common items you can include in the appendix section include:

  • Additional data about the process of manufacturing or creation
  • Additional description of products or services such as product schematics
  • Additional financial documents or projections
  • Articles of incorporation and status
  • Backup for market research or competitive analysis
  • Bank statements
  • Business registries
  • Client testimonials (if your business is already running)
  • Copies of insurances
  • Credit histories (personal or/and business)
  • Deeds and permits
  • Equipment leases
  • Examples of marketing and advertising collateral
  • Industry associations and memberships
  • Images of product
  • Intellectual property
  • Key customer contracts
  • Legal documents and other contracts
  • Letters of reference
  • Links to references
  • Market research data
  • Organizational charts
  • Photographs of potential facilities
  • Professional licenses pertaining to your legal structure or type of business
  • Purchase orders
  • Resumes of the founder(s) and key managers
  • State and federal identification numbers or codes
  • Trademarks or patents’ registrations

Avoid using the appendix section as a place to dump any document or information you feel like adding. Only add documents or information that you support or increase the credibility of your business plan.

Tips and Strategies for Writing a Convincing Business Plan

To achieve a perfect business plan, you need to consider some key tips and strategies. These tips will raise the efficiency of your business plan above average.

1. Know Your Audience

When writing a business plan, you need to know your audience . Business owners write business plans for different reasons. Your business plan has to be specific. For example, you can write business plans to potential investors, banks, and even fellow board members of the company.

The audience you are writing to determines the structure of the business plan. As a business owner, you have to know your audience. Not everyone will be your audience. Knowing your audience will help you to narrow the scope of your business plan.

Consider what your audience wants to see in your projects, the likely questions they might ask, and what interests them.

  • A business plan used to address a company's board members will center on its employment schemes, internal affairs, projects, stakeholders, etc.
  • A business plan for financial institutions will talk about the size of your market and the chances for you to pay back any loans you demand.
  • A business plan for investors will show proof that you can return the investment capital within a specific time. In addition, it discusses your financial projections, tractions, and market size.

2. Get Inspiration from People

Writing a business plan from scratch as an entrepreneur can be daunting. That is why you need the right inspiration to push you to write one. You can gain inspiration from the successful business plans of other businesses. Look at their business plans, the style they use, the structure of the project, etc.

To make your business plan easier to create, search companies related to your business to get an exact copy of what you need to create an effective business plan. You can also make references while citing examples in your business plans.

When drafting your business plan, get as much help from others as you possibly can. By getting inspiration from people, you can create something better than what they have.

3. Avoid Being Over Optimistic

Many business owners make use of strong adjectives to qualify their content. One of the big mistakes entrepreneurs make when preparing a business plan is promising too much.

The use of superlatives and over-optimistic claims can prepare the audience for more than you can offer. In the end, you disappoint the confidence they have in you.

In most cases, the best option is to be realistic with your claims and statistics. Most of the investors can sense a bit of incompetency from the overuse of superlatives. As a new entrepreneur, do not be tempted to over-promise to get the interests of investors.

The concept of entrepreneurship centers on risks, nothing is certain when you make future analyses. What separates the best is the ability to do careful research and work towards achieving that, not promising more than you can achieve.

To make an excellent first impression as an entrepreneur, replace superlatives with compelling data-driven content. In this way, you are more specific than someone promising a huge ROI from an investment.

4. Keep it Simple and Short

When writing business plans, ensure you keep them simple throughout. Irrespective of the purpose of the business plan, your goal is to convince the audience.

One way to achieve this goal is to make them understand your proposal. Therefore, it would be best if you avoid the use of complex grammar to express yourself. It would be a huge turn-off if the people you want to convince are not familiar with your use of words.

Another thing to note is the length of your business plan. It would be best if you made it as brief as possible.

You hardly see investors or agencies that read through an extremely long document. In that case, if your first few pages can’t convince them, then you have lost it. The more pages you write, the higher the chances of you derailing from the essential contents.

To ensure your business plan has a high conversion rate, you need to dispose of every unnecessary information. For example, if you have a strategy that you are not sure of, it would be best to leave it out of the plan.

5. Make an Outline and Follow Through

A perfect business plan must have touched every part needed to convince the audience. Business owners get easily tempted to concentrate more on their products than on other sections. Doing this can be detrimental to the efficiency of the business plan.

For example, imagine you talking about a product but omitting or providing very little information about the target audience. You will leave your clients confused.

To ensure that your business plan communicates your full business model to readers, you have to input all the necessary information in it. One of the best ways to achieve this is to design a structure and stick to it.

This structure is what guides you throughout the writing. To make your work easier, you can assign an estimated word count or page limit to every section to avoid making it too bulky for easy reading. As a guide, the necessary things your business plan must contain are:

  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Product or service description
  • Target audience
  • Market size
  • Competition analysis
  • Financial projections

Some specific businesses can include some other essential sections, but these are the key sections that must be in every business plan.

6. Ask a Professional to Proofread

When writing a business plan, you must tie all loose ends to get a perfect result. When you are done with writing, call a professional to go through the document for you. You are bound to make mistakes, and the way to correct them is to get external help.

You should get a professional in your field who can relate to every section of your business plan. It would be easier for the professional to notice the inner flaws in the document than an editor with no knowledge of your business.

In addition to getting a professional to proofread, get an editor to proofread and edit your document. The editor will help you identify grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and inappropriate writing styles.

Writing a business plan can be daunting, but you can surmount that obstacle and get the best out of it with these tips.

Business Plan Examples and Templates That’ll Save You Tons of Time

1. hubspot's one-page business plan.

HubSpot's One Page Business Plan

The one-page business plan template by HubSpot is the perfect guide for businesses of any size, irrespective of their business strategy. Although the template is condensed into a page, your final business plan should not be a page long! The template is designed to ask helpful questions that can help you develop your business plan.

Hubspot’s one-page business plan template is divided into nine fields:

  • Business opportunity
  • Company description
  • Industry analysis
  • Target market
  • Implementation timeline
  • Marketing plan
  • Financial summary
  • Funding required

2. Bplan’s Free Business Plan Template

Bplan’s Free Business Plan Template

Bplans' free business plan template is investor-approved. It is a rich template used by prestigious educational institutions such as Babson College and Princeton University to teach entrepreneurs how to create a business plan.

The template has six sections: the executive summary, opportunity, execution, company, financial plan, and appendix. There is a step-by-step guide for writing every little detail in the business plan. Follow the instructions each step of the way and you will create a business plan that impresses investors or lenders easily.

3. HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

HubSpot's Downloadable Business Plan Template

HubSpot’s downloadable business plan template is a more comprehensive option compared to the one-page business template by HubSpot. This free and downloadable business plan template is designed for entrepreneurs.

The template is a comprehensive guide and checklist for business owners just starting their businesses. It tells you everything you need to fill in each section of the business plan and how to do it.

There are nine sections in this business plan template: an executive summary, company and business description, product and services line, market analysis, marketing plan, sales plan, legal notes, financial considerations, and appendix.

4. Business Plan by My Own Business Institute

The Business Profile

My Own Business Institute (MOBI) which is a part of Santa Clara University's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship offers a free business plan template. You can either copy the free business template from the link provided above or download it as a Word document.

The comprehensive template consists of a whopping 15 sections.

  • The Business Profile
  • The Vision and the People
  • Home-Based Business and Freelance Business Opportunities
  • Organization
  • Licenses and Permits
  • Business Insurance
  • Communication Tools
  • Acquisitions
  • Location and Leasing
  • Accounting and Cash Flow
  • Opening and Marketing
  • Managing Employees
  • Expanding and Handling Problems

There are lots of helpful tips on how to fill each section in the free business plan template by MOBI.

5. Score's Business Plan Template for Startups

Score's Business Plan Template for Startups

Score is an American nonprofit organization that helps entrepreneurs build successful companies. This business plan template for startups by Score is available for free download. The business plan template asks a whooping 150 generic questions that help entrepreneurs from different fields to set up the perfect business plan.

The business plan template for startups contains clear instructions and worksheets, all you have to do is answer the questions and fill the worksheets.

There are nine sections in the business plan template: executive summary, company description, products and services, marketing plan, operational plan, management and organization, startup expenses and capitalization, financial plan, and appendices.

The ‘refining the plan’ resource contains instructions that help you modify your business plan to suit your specific needs, industry, and target audience. After you have completed Score’s business plan template, you can work with a SCORE mentor for expert advice in business planning.

6. Minimalist Architecture Business Plan Template by Venngage

Minimalist Architecture Business Plan Template by Venngage

The minimalist architecture business plan template is a simple template by Venngage that you can customize to suit your business needs .

There are five sections in the template: an executive summary, statement of problem, approach and methodology, qualifications, and schedule and benchmark. The business plan template has instructions that guide users on what to fill in each section.

7. Small Business Administration Free Business Plan Template

Small Business Administration Free Business Plan Template

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers two free business plan templates, filled with practical real-life examples that you can model to create your business plan. Both free business plan templates are written by fictional business owners: Rebecca who owns a consulting firm, and Andrew who owns a toy company.

There are five sections in the two SBA’s free business plan templates.

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Service Line
  • Marketing and Sales

8. The $100 Startup's One-Page Business Plan

The $100 Startup's One Page Business Plan

The one-page business plan by the $100 startup is a simple business plan template for entrepreneurs who do not want to create a long and complicated plan . You can include more details in the appendices for funders who want more information beyond what you can put in the one-page business plan.

There are five sections in the one-page business plan such as overview, ka-ching, hustling, success, and obstacles or challenges or open questions. You can answer all the questions using one or two sentences.

9. PandaDoc’s Free Business Plan Template

PandaDoc’s Free Business Plan Template

The free business plan template by PandaDoc is a comprehensive 15-page document that describes the information you should include in every section.

There are 11 sections in PandaDoc’s free business plan template.

  • Executive summary
  • Business description
  • Products and services
  • Operations plan
  • Management organization
  • Financial plan
  • Conclusion / Call to action
  • Confidentiality statement

You have to sign up for its 14-day free trial to access the template. You will find different business plan templates on PandaDoc once you sign up (including templates for general businesses and specific businesses such as bakeries, startups, restaurants, salons, hotels, and coffee shops)

PandaDoc allows you to customize its business plan templates to fit the needs of your business. After editing the template, you can send it to interested parties and track opens and views through PandaDoc.

10. Invoiceberry Templates for Word, Open Office, Excel, or PPT

Invoiceberry Templates Business Concept

InvoiceBerry is a U.K based online invoicing and tracking platform that offers free business plan templates in .docx, .odt, .xlsx, and .pptx formats for freelancers and small businesses.

Before you can download the free business plan template, it will ask you to give it your email address. After you complete the little task, it will send the download link to your inbox for you to download. It also provides a business plan checklist in .xlsx file format that ensures you add the right information to the business plan.

Alternatives to the Traditional Business Plan

A business plan is very important in mapping out how one expects their business to grow over a set number of years, particularly when they need external investment in their business. However, many investors do not have the time to watch you present your business plan. It is a long and boring read.

Luckily, there are three alternatives to the traditional business plan (the Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas, and Startup Pitch Deck). These alternatives are less laborious and easier and quicker to present to investors.

Business Model Canvas (BMC)

The business model canvas is a business tool used to present all the important components of setting up a business, such as customers, route to market, value proposition, and finance in a single sheet. It provides a very focused blueprint that defines your business initially which you can later expand on if needed.

Business Model Canvas (BMC) Infographic

The sheet is divided mainly into company, industry, and consumer models that are interconnected in how they find problems and proffer solutions.

Segments of the Business Model Canvas

The business model canvas was developed by founder Alexander Osterwalder to answer important business questions. It contains nine segments.

Segments of the Business Model Canvas

  • Key Partners: Who will be occupying important executive positions in your business? What do they bring to the table? Will there be a third party involved with the company?
  • Key Activities: What important activities will production entail? What activities will be carried out to ensure the smooth running of the company?
  • The Product’s Value Propositions: What does your product do? How will it be different from other products?
  • Customer Segments: What demography of consumers are you targeting? What are the habits of these consumers? Who are the MVPs of your target consumers?
  • Customer Relationships: How will the team support and work with its customer base? How do you intend to build and maintain trust with the customer?
  • Key Resources: What type of personnel and tools will be needed? What size of the budget will they need access to?
  • Channels: How do you plan to create awareness of your products? How do you intend to transport your product to the customer?
  • Cost Structure: What is the estimated cost of production? How much will distribution cost?
  • Revenue Streams: For what value are customers willing to pay? How do they prefer to pay for the product? Are there any external revenues attached apart from the main source? How do the revenue streams contribute to the overall revenue?

Lean Canvas

The lean canvas is a problem-oriented alternative to the standard business model canvas. It was proposed by Ash Maurya, creator of Lean Stack as a development of the business model generation. It uses a more problem-focused approach and it majorly targets entrepreneurs and startup businesses.

The lean canvas is a problem oriented alternative to the standard business model canvas

Lean Canvas uses the same 9 blocks concept as the business model canvas, however, they have been modified slightly to suit the needs and purpose of a small startup. The key partners, key activities, customer relationships, and key resources are replaced by new segments which are:

  • Problem: Simple and straightforward number of problems you have identified, ideally three.
  • Solution: The solutions to each problem.
  • Unfair Advantage: Something you possess that can't be easily bought or replicated.
  • Key Metrics: Important numbers that will tell how your business is doing.

Startup Pitch Deck

While the business model canvas compresses into a factual sheet, startup pitch decks expand flamboyantly.

Pitch decks, through slides, convey your business plan, often through graphs and images used to emphasize estimations and observations in your presentation. Entrepreneurs often use pitch decks to fully convince their target audience of their plans before discussing funding arrangements.

Startup Pitch Deck Presentation

Considering the likelihood of it being used in a small time frame, a good startup pitch deck should ideally contain 20 slides or less to have enough time to answer questions from the audience.

Unlike the standard and lean business model canvases, a pitch deck doesn't have a set template on how to present your business plan but there are still important components to it. These components often mirror those of the business model canvas except that they are in slide form and contain more details.

Airbnb Pitch Deck

Using Airbnb (one of the most successful start-ups in recent history) for reference, the important components of a good slide are listed below.

  • Cover/Introduction Slide: Here, you should include your company's name and mission statement. Your mission statement should be a very catchy tagline. Also, include personal information and contact details to provide an easy link for potential investors.
  • Problem Slide: This slide requires you to create a connection with the audience or the investor that you are pitching. For example in their pitch, Airbnb summarized the most important problems it would solve in three brief points – pricing of hotels, disconnection from city culture, and connection problems for local bookings.
  • Solution Slide: This slide includes your core value proposition. List simple and direct solutions to the problems you have mentioned
  • Customer Analysis: Here you will provide information on the customers you will be offering your service to. The identity of your customers plays an important part in fundraising as well as the long-run viability of the business.
  • Market Validation: Use competitive analysis to show numbers that prove the presence of a market for your product, industry behavior in the present and the long run, as well as the percentage of the market you aim to attract. It shows that you understand your competitors and customers and convinces investors of the opportunities presented in the market.
  • Business Model: Your business model is the hook of your presentation. It may vary in complexity but it should generally include a pricing system informed by your market analysis. The goal of the slide is to confirm your business model is easy to implement.
  • Marketing Strategy: This slide should summarize a few customer acquisition methods that you plan to use to grow the business.
  • Competitive Advantage: What this slide will do is provide information on what will set you apart and make you a more attractive option to customers. It could be the possession of technology that is not widely known in the market.
  • Team Slide: Here you will give a brief description of your team. Include your key management personnel here and their specific roles in the company. Include their educational background, job history, and skillsets. Also, talk about their accomplishments in their careers so far to build investors' confidence in members of your team.
  • Traction Slide: This validates the company’s business model by showing growth through early sales and support. The slide aims to reduce any lingering fears in potential investors by showing realistic periodic milestones and profit margins. It can include current sales, growth, valuable customers, pre-orders, or data from surveys outlining current consumer interest.
  • Funding Slide: This slide is popularly referred to as ‘the ask'. Here you will include important details like how much is needed to get your business off the ground and how the funding will be spent to help the company reach its goals.
  • Appendix Slides: Your pitch deck appendix should always be included alongside a standard pitch presentation. It consists of additional slides you could not show in the pitch deck but you need to complement your presentation.

It is important to support your calculations with pictorial renditions. Infographics, such as pie charts or bar graphs, will be more effective in presenting the information than just listing numbers. For example, a six-month graph that shows rising profit margins will easily look more impressive than merely writing it.

Lastly, since a pitch deck is primarily used to secure meetings and you may be sharing your pitch with several investors, it is advisable to keep a separate public version that doesn't include financials. Only disclose the one with projections once you have secured a link with an investor.

Advantages of the Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas, and Startup Pitch Deck over the Traditional Business Plan

  • Time-Saving: Writing a detailed traditional business plan could take weeks or months. On the other hand, all three alternatives can be done in a few days or even one night of brainstorming if you have a comprehensive understanding of your business.
  • Easier to Understand: Since the information presented is almost entirely factual, it puts focus on what is most important in running the business. They cut away the excess pages of fillers in a traditional business plan and allow investors to see what is driving the business and what is getting in the way.
  • Easy to Update: Businesses typically present their business plans to many potential investors before they secure funding. What this means is that you may regularly have to amend your presentation to update statistics or adjust to audience-specific needs. For a traditional business plan, this could mean rewriting a whole section of your plan. For the three alternatives, updating is much easier because they are not voluminous.
  • Guide for a More In-depth Business Plan: All three alternatives have the added benefit of being able to double as a sketch of your business plan if the need to create one arises in the future.

Business Plan FAQ

Business plans are important for any entrepreneur who is looking for a framework to run their company over some time or seeking external support. Although they are essential for new businesses, every company should ideally have a business plan to track their growth from time to time.  They can be used by startups seeking investments or loans to convey their business ideas or an employee to convince his boss of the feasibility of starting a new project. They can also be used by companies seeking to recruit high-profile employee targets into key positions or trying to secure partnerships with other firms.

Business plans often vary depending on your target audience, the scope, and the goals for the plan. Startup plans are the most common among the different types of business plans.  A start-up plan is used by a new business to present all the necessary information to help get the business up and running. They are usually used by entrepreneurs who are seeking funding from investors or bank loans. The established company alternative to a start-up plan is a feasibility plan. A feasibility plan is often used by an established company looking for new business opportunities. They are used to show the upsides of creating a new product for a consumer base. Because the audience is usually company people, it requires less company analysis. The third type of business plan is the lean business plan. A lean business plan is a brief, straight-to-the-point breakdown of your ideas and analysis for your business. It does not contain details of your proposal and can be written on one page. Finally, you have the what-if plan. As it implies, a what-if plan is a preparation for the worst-case scenario. You must always be prepared for the possibility of your original plan being rejected. A good what-if plan will serve as a good plan B to the original.

A good business plan has 10 key components. They include an executive plan, product analysis, desired customer base, company analysis, industry analysis, marketing strategy, sales strategy, financial projection, funding, and appendix. Executive Plan Your business should begin with your executive plan. An executive plan will provide early insight into what you are planning to achieve with your business. It should include your mission statement and highlight some of the important points which you will explain later. Product Analysis The next component of your business plan is your product analysis. A key part of this section is explaining the type of item or service you are going to offer as well as the market problems your product will solve. Desired Consumer Base Your product analysis should be supplemented with a detailed breakdown of your desired consumer base. Investors are always interested in knowing the economic power of your market as well as potential MVP customers. Company Analysis The next component of your business plan is your company analysis. Here, you explain how you want to run your business. It will include your operational strategy, an insight into the workforce needed to keep the company running, and important executive positions. It will also provide a calculation of expected operational costs.  Industry Analysis A good business plan should also contain well laid out industry analysis. It is important to convince potential investors you know the companies you will be competing with, as well as your plans to gain an edge on the competition. Marketing Strategy Your business plan should also include your marketing strategy. This is how you intend to spread awareness of your product. It should include a detailed explanation of the company brand as well as your advertising methods. Sales Strategy Your sales strategy comes after the market strategy. Here you give an overview of your company's pricing strategy and how you aim to maximize profits. You can also explain how your prices will adapt to market behaviors. Financial Projection The financial projection is the next component of your business plan. It explains your company's expected running cost and revenue earned during the tenure of the business plan. Financial projection gives a clear idea of how your company will develop in the future. Funding The next component of your business plan is funding. You have to detail how much external investment you need to get your business idea off the ground here. Appendix The last component of your plan is the appendix. This is where you put licenses, graphs, or key information that does not fit in any of the other components.

The business model canvas is a business management tool used to quickly define your business idea and model. It is often used when investors need you to pitch your business idea during a brief window.

A pitch deck is similar to a business model canvas except that it makes use of slides in its presentation. A pitch is not primarily used to secure funding, rather its main purpose is to entice potential investors by selling a very optimistic outlook on the business.

Business plan competitions help you evaluate the strength of your business plan. By participating in business plan competitions, you are improving your experience. The experience provides you with a degree of validation while practicing important skills. The main motivation for entering into the competitions is often to secure funding by finishing in podium positions. There is also the chance that you may catch the eye of a casual observer outside of the competition. These competitions also provide good networking opportunities. You could meet mentors who will take a keen interest in guiding you in your business journey. You also have the opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs whose ideas can complement yours.

Exlore Further

  • 12 Key Elements of a Business Plan (Top Components Explained)
  • 13 Sources of Business Finance For Companies & Sole Traders
  • 5 Common Types of Business Structures (+ Pros & Cons)
  • How to Buy a Business in 8 Steps (+ Due Diligence Checklist)

Was This Article Helpful?

Martin luenendonk.

' src=

Martin loves entrepreneurship and has helped dozens of entrepreneurs by validating the business idea, finding scalable customer acquisition channels, and building a data-driven organization. During his time working in investment banking, tech startups, and industry-leading companies he gained extensive knowledge in using different software tools to optimize business processes.

This insights and his love for researching SaaS products enables him to provide in-depth, fact-based software reviews to enable software buyers make better decisions.

  • Credit cards
  • View all credit cards
  • Banking guide
  • Loans guide
  • Insurance guide
  • Personal finance
  • View all personal finance
  • Small business
  • Small business guide
  • View all taxes

You’re our first priority. Every time.

We believe everyone should be able to make financial decisions with confidence. And while our site doesn’t feature every company or financial product available on the market, we’re proud that the guidance we offer, the information we provide and the tools we create are objective, independent, straightforward — and free.

So how do we make money? Our partners compensate us. This may influence which products we review and write about (and where those products appear on the site), but it in no way affects our recommendations or advice, which are grounded in thousands of hours of research. Our partners cannot pay us to guarantee favorable reviews of their products or services. Here is a list of our partners .

How to Start a Business in 15 Steps

Hillary Crawford

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money .

1. Find the right opportunity

2. write a business plan, 3. choose a business structure, 4. get a federal tax id, 5. apply for licenses and permits, 6. open a business bank account, 7. understand your startup financing options, 8. get a business credit card, 9. choose the right accounting software, 10. prepare to pay your taxes, 11. protect yourself with business insurance, 12. establish your online presence, 13. set up a payments system, 14. hire employees, 15. get financing to grow your business.

Starting a business takes research, smarts and self-confidence — and a measure of fearlessness. You may already be asking yourself: How can I start my own business with no money? What's the right equipment? Am I getting the best advice?

Here are the essential steps on how to start a business, from choosing the right business idea, creating a solid business plan and structuring your company to opening a business bank account and choosing the right accounting software.

» MORE: 5 steps to turn your side gig into a full-fledged business



What business should you start? It depends on your expertise, plus how much time and money you’re able to invest. Some small-business ideas can be launched from home with little overhead, and e-commerce and remote businesses have become increasingly common in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As you narrow your scope, you also want to be sure that your idea can actually make money . If you’re not sure what kind of business you want to run, use these lists to get the wheels turning:

50 best small-business ideas.

The 23 most profitable business ideas .

40 startup ideas to try .

16 e-commerce business ideas.

40 home business ideas to explore .

44 online business ideas you can start now .

Looking for tools to help grow your business?

Tell us where you're at in your business journey, and we'll direct you to the experience that fits.

on NerdWallet's secure site

A strong business plan can help you prepare for every aspect of your business. Plus, you’ll need one to present to potential investors and lenders. This document should include details of the products or services you plan to offer, how you plan to make money, who you need on your team and more.

You’ll also want to include detailed financial projections, budgets and thorough explanations of how you plan to spend investor dollars or loans. Since cash flow projections will fluctuate as you adjust projected income and expenses, it helps to think of the plan’s financials as a living, changing document.

Ultimately, your business plan will help you chart a course for your business, anticipate potential roadblocks and work out how to overcome them — and will likely go through multiple iterations before your idea comes to fruition. Industry colleagues and accountants may be able to provide valuable feedback on how realistic your projections look and point out any overlooked costs.

How to write a business plan, step by step .

How to create a business budget .

Best business budgeting software tools .

5 tips to write a successful business plan . 

How to write a successful business plan for a loan .

The legal structure of your business can affect everything from your taxes to what you're liable for. For example, there’s no legal distinction between a sole proprietorship and its owner. Limited liability companies (LLCs) and their owners, however, are considered separate entities by law, which can provide more personal asset protection.

Talking with a tax professional can help you choose the right business structure for you. And you can change your structure as your business grows.

How to choose the right business structure .

Pros and cons of a limited liability company .

LLC vs. sole proprietorship: How to choose .

Partnership vs. corporation: How to choose .

Getting an employer identification number (EIN) is necessary for most businesses to file taxes, open bank accounts and perform other essential tasks. Even if you don’t have employees, there are benefits to getting an EIN. It’s free to apply and the online application only takes a few minutes.

How to apply for an employer identification number .

Benefits of getting an EIN (even if you don’t have to) .

In general, restaurants need health inspections and liquor licenses. Hair stylists need cosmetology licenses. Your city may require you to apply for a business license regardless of what field you’re in. And if you’re renovating a space to sell products or perform services, you may need to ask local officials for a zoning change.

Set aside time early on to find out what licenses and permits you need before you can open your doors. While you don’t typically need a lawyer to apply for a business license, they can help you navigate the process and review other documents, like lease agreements or loans, before you sign them. Industry associations, city officials who work on economic development issues and local business associations, like your Chamber of Commerce, may be able to offer advice, too.

How to get a business license .

Do you need a business license to sell online?

How to find a startup lawyer . 

How much do you need?

with Fundera by NerdWallet

We’ll start with a brief questionnaire to better understand the unique needs of your business.

Once we uncover your personalized matches, our team will consult you on the process moving forward.

Keeping your business and personal finances separate is key to managing your business finances. It’s standard bookkeeping hygiene and makes it easier to deduct business expenses come tax time. A business bank account can help, and they’re simple to set up.

Best business bank accounts . 

Best business bank accounts for freelancers .

Best free business checking accounts .

Best business bank accounts for LLCs .

Video preview image

Most businesses need a little capital to get started. However, the majority of business loans are not available to businesses that have been operating for less than six months, and most online lenders prefer at least a year in business. Startups should consider alternative financing options, or try to leverage other strengths of their business, such as strong credit or collateral. If your business does qualify for a loan, be sure to pay attention to interest rates, potential prepayment fees and personal liability terms.

Found Small Business Banking

Found Small Business Banking

Many business owners rely on their own savings to get started. You can also look into crowdfunding, personal loans, business grants and more. High-growth-potential startups may also be eligible for equity financing, which gives partial ownership, or equity, to investors in exchange for capital.

How do business loans work?

Best startup business loans.

Startup business grants .

Asset-based lending options.

Types of startup funding.

Crowdfunding for business .

Is equity financing right for your business?

Funding your business with a personal loan .

Is your to-do list overwhelming?

Business credit cards can also be used as a short-term financing solution to help you purchase necessary supplies and pay bills while cash flow is still shaky. Just be sure to spend within your limit and pay off your balance in full each month so you don’t get into a cycle of debt. Startup financing aside, business credit cards also make it easier to keep business and personal finances separate. As an added bonus, you can also earn rewards, such as cash back, on the money you spend.

Usually, you can qualify for a business credit card based on your personal credit score.

What is a business credit card?

How to get a business credit card .

Best small-business credit cards .

Best business credit cards for new businesses .

Best 0% APR business credit cards.

It’s essential that you keep records that show how much revenue you’re bringing in and how much you’re spending. Accounting software helps you track and analyze these numbers by generating reports and recording sales trends — and there are even some free options.

As your business grows, you may want to start working with a bookkeeper . This person can help ensure your records are complete and accurate, which makes it easier to file your taxes, apply for financing and more.

Best accounting software for small businesses .

Best online bookkeeping services .

Bookkeeping basics for small businesses. 

Best free accounting software .

Know these 4 business financial metrics to track performance .

You'll have some new tax responsibilities as a business owner — including, potentially, the need to pay taxes throughout the year, not just during tax season. But you'll probably discover some new tax breaks , too.

Filing taxes can be complex, especially as a small-business owner. Developing a relationship with a tax professional early on can help set you up for success, and they can be a trusted adviser to your business later on.

A tax guide for small-business owners.

Self-employment tax, explained.

Best tax software for small businesses .

How estimated quarterly taxes work .

How to find the right tax advisor for your business .

It's important to protect your business and your personal assets, and business insurance exists to do just that. NerdWallet recommends that every business carry general liability insurance in case of legal claims.

You may also need insurance to comply with a contract, like to set up a booth at an event or work as a subcontractor on a larger project.

Best small-business insurance providers .

How much does business insurance cost?

What is general liability insurance?

What is a business owner’s policy (BOP)?

An online presence is critical for almost every business — especially if you want to sell products online. Setting up a website and social media profiles early on, even if they’re simple, can help you start developing relationships with potential customers right away.

Here’s what you need to know to start your business website:

How to build an e-commerce website .

The ultimate guide to small-business marketing .

The best ways to promote your business on social media .

6 Instagram tips for small-business owners .

8 best e-commerce website builders for small businesses .

The do’s and don’ts of using Facebook to drive business sales .

5 best places to advertise your business online .

If your business takes credit and debit cards, you'll likely need a payment processor and point-of-sale (POS) system. Lots of POS system providers double as processing companies, which can make the decision-making process simple. Remember to consider upfront hardware costs for card readers or POS registers, monthly POS software fees and processing fees. Online payments typically have higher processing fees than in-person payments, so be sure to consider the full range of fees when choosing your provider.

How to accept credit card payments.

What is credit card processing and how does it work?

Cheapest credit card processing companies.

Best point-of-sale (POS) systems .

Best credit card processing companies .

Best credit card readers for small businesses .

You may not need to hire employees right away — and some small-business owners prefer to remain solopreneurs throughout the life of their business. But if you do choose to hire, you’ll probably need workers’ compensation insurance, payroll software and more. Here’s what goes into hiring your first employees.

Ready to hire your first employee? Prep with these steps .

Strategies to attract good employees.

Tips for hiring remote workers.

Strategies to help retain employees.

How to choose the right payroll software for your business .

Best payroll software for small businesses. 

What is workers’ compensation insurance?

Once you’ve been in business for six to 12 months, you may start qualifying for business loans. Financing can help your business grow and expand — by buying equipment, renovating an office or expanding your inventory, for instance — or float you through a slow season while you prepare for increased future revenue.

Here’s what you need to know about business loans, lines of credit and other financing options.

How to get a business loan .

SBA loans: What they are and how to qualify .

Equipment financing: What it is and top lenders.

Best small-business loans .

Types of business loans.

Should you grow your business? 6 questions to help you decide .

On a similar note...

One blue credit card on a flat surface with coins on both sides.

Starting a Business | How To

How to Start a Small Business: An Ultimate Guide

Published October 9, 2023

Published Oct 9, 2023

Agatha Aviso

WRITTEN BY: Agatha Aviso

Get Your Free Ebook

before starting your business plan

Your Privacy is important to us.

This article is part of a larger series on Starting a Business .

Starting A Business?

Explore QuickBooks Icon

  • 1. Come Up With a Business Idea
  • 2. Test Your Business Idea
  • 3. Write a Business Plan
  • 4. Acquire Funding
  • 5. Choose Structure & Register
  • 6. Get Business Insured
  • 7. Build Team
  • 8. Set Up Systems & Software

Bottom Line

Whether you’re starting a part-time business or quitting your corporate job to create your dream biz, you’ll find information in this guide to help you succeed. Throughout this article, you’ll learn how to start a small business from experts in finance, legal, marketing, human resources, software, insurance, as well as expert advice from former small business consultants.

Starting a small business involves coming up with a business idea, testing the idea, writing a business plan, acquiring funding, choosing a business structure, registering the business, getting it insured, making key hires, setting up systems, and finally, marketing and promoting it.

Download Your Free “How To Start A Business” E-book


How To Start A Business

How to start your business e-book page.

Thank you for downloading!

As you’re starting your business, it’s wise to register it as a legal entity, like an LLC. Doing this will protect your personal assets if a lawsuit were to occur against the business. You can register your business as an LLC through an online legal service.

IncFile is an online service that handles and files the paperwork so your business can become an LLC quickly.

Start your business today with IncFile for as little as $0 plus state fees with no contracts and no hidden fees.

Step-by-step infographic of how to start a business.

Should you start a business? Before coming up with a business, it’s crucial to determine if you’re ready to become a business owner and there are many things to consider. Examine the main points to consider by reading our guide on determining if you should start a business .

“Starting a business is not for everyone. Generally, starting a business, I’d say, No. 1 is to have a high pain threshold. When you first start a company, there’s lots of optimism and things are great. Happiness at first is high, then you encounter all sorts of issues and happiness will steadily decline, and then you will go through a whole world of hurt, and then eventually, if you succeed—and in most cases, you will not succeed—if you succeed then, after a long time, you will finally get back to happiness.” – Elon Musk

Step 1: Come Up With a Business Idea

All businesses start with the same first step— coming up with a business idea . When coming up with an idea for your business, consider your own skills and experiences, as well as business trends and problems or pain points your business could help address.

As you go through your day, you should write down any ideas you have. Look for problems you’re having in your own life. Can you solve that problem yourself and turn the solution into a business?

It’s also important to consider your personality when choosing a business idea:

  • Would you like to work at home in silence or talk with customers in a store?
  • Would you like to have a lifestyle business, which caps your income, or an eight-figure business with employees?
  • Would you like to start from scratch or purchase an existing businesslike a franchise?
  • Would you like to work 80-hour weeks and grow a business fast or keep a more balanced life and grow the business slowly?
  • Would you like to create products and have other people sell them or sell products that other people have created?

Think about these questions to help you begin with the end in mind. Another personality-based test is to notice your energy levels when doing tasks at work and home. What tasks give you energy, and what depletes your energy? Running a business that gives you energy will be much more likely to succeed.

Business Idea Examples

Browse our list of business ideas for inspiration:

  • Best Business Ideas to Make Money
  • Best Business to Start
  • Best Businesses to Start With Less Than $500
  • Mompreneur Business Ideas
  • Home-based Business Ideas
  • Small Farm Business Ideas
  • Low-cost Franchises
  • Creative Business Ideas Started During the Pandemic

Additionally, you may want to browse “how to start a business” guides to learn more about a specific business idea:

  • Restaurant or catering business
  • Cleaning business
  • Clothing boutique or a consignment store
  • Coffee shop
  • Dropshipping business
  • FedEx routes
  • Ghost kitchen
  • Lifestyle blog
  • Online store
  • Online T-shirt business
  • Personal training
  • Retail store

Starting From Scratch vs Buying Existing vs a Franchise

One question you may have is if you should start your small business from scratch, buy an existing business, or purchase a franchise? Two things to consider are your business experience and available funds.

If you have no experience running a business or in a particular industry, buying into a franchise can increase your odds of success. When you buy into a franchise , you’re mostly learning how to run the business. If you follow the franchise formula in a well-populated area, you’re likely to succeed.

The same line of thinking applies to an existing business. Purchase an existing business, and you’ll learn how to run the business—plus receive previous customers. This combination makes the likelihood of success higher than you’d have for a brand-new franchise.

The challenge with buying a franchise or an existing business is cost. The high cost is one of the main reasons most new entrepreneurs start their business from scratch. However, keep in mind that there are dozens of franchises that cost under $25,000 .

  • Buying a Franchise: How to Buy a Franchise in 8 Steps
  • Financing a Franchise: 7 Best Loan Options
  • 11 Franchise Marketing Tips to Grow Your Business
  • 19 Best Franchises Under 10K

How Much Money Do You Need to Start?

It’s essential to know the answer to this question before starting your business. I’ve met with several people who never got their business off the ground because it required too much money. Remember, if you don’t have the capital available: Dream big, but start small.

To start some businesses, such as residential cleaning or power washing, you may only need $1,000. Use these funds to register the business, purchase supplies, get your first customers, and then, you’ll be in business.

Opening a store with a location is more costly. You’ll need at least $50,000 in funding—possibly several hundred thousand dollars. For a very small retail store, you should plan on earning at least $100,000 a year to cover overhead costs and make a nice profit.

If you need substantial debt to open your first business—over $20,000—you should seriously think about that decision. What’s the worst-case scenario? And how long will it take you to get out of debt? If possible, start part time with the business and acquire the necessary entrepreneurship skills. Or consider waiting. Save up cash, and take on as little debt as possible.

Learn More: How to Choose a Business to Start

Now that you’ve settled on an idea, it is time to really dive into the market.

Step 2: Research Your Market and Competitors

Once you have chosen your business idea, you need to test the idea to determine the likelihood that it will work. The majority of new business owners skip this step—that’s why 20–22% of small businesses fail within the first year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics .

Don’t skip this step! You may learn valuable information that alters the type of business you start or how you implement it. All the information you collect will go into your business plan (step No. 3).

Validate Your Business Idea

Validating your business idea involves making efforts to ensure the solution you want to sell is something customers will pay for. True validation comes when someone spends their money on your product or service. However, you may not be able to figure out with certainty how well your product will do in the market until it’s created, or your business is open.

This is where research becomes crucial. Consider creating a few focus groups and surveys to gather feedback. Building an audience online is a great way to elicit feedback for your idea. Additionally, starting a crowdfunding campaign is one of the best ways to ensure your business idea is a good one.

  • Evaluate your competitors. Consider your top five potential competitors and list their strengths and weaknesses. What strengths do your competitors have that you cannot beat? What weaknesses do they have that you can improve upon? If you have no competitors, that is not always a good sign. Ask yourself why there are no competitors in your area. There may be a reason. For example, the market may be too small to support your idea or people are not willing to pay for your product or service.
  • Identify your target demographic. Customer research is key in deciding whether or not the business will work. There must be people willing to pay for your product or service in your area. To narrow down your customers, consider creating customer profiles for each type of customer you will have. Once you are clear on your customers, you want to determine how many of them are in your area. ReferenceUSA is a database you can use to do this research. ReferenceUSA is a powerful tool that allows you to research customers based on demographics. Tens of thousands of local libraries provide free access to ReferenceUSA.

Perform a SWOT Analysis

A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis is an exercise that helps you think critically about your business idea. SWOT analysis may reveal certain aspects of your business you have not considered—both positive and negative.

Go through each section below and list your ideas:

  • Strengths: What will the business do well?
  • Weaknesses: What may the business not do well?
  • Opportunities: What external market opportunities are there—such as less competition and underserved segments?
  • Threats: What external factors may make success difficult—such as regulations?

Guide infographic for conducting a SWOT analysis.

  • Identify your competitive advantages. A SWOT analysis helps you identify your own competitive advantages. A question to ask yourself is: “What is my advantage that the competition will struggle to match? ” Is it your quality of product or service, customer service, or knowledge? This question will help you determine if you can be the best at something. Being the best in a certain area of a business makes it more likely that the business will succeed.

Research a Location

If you’re considering an office or storefront, start your research into the location now. You want to start early to make sure you can afford it. Look into potential locations to develop a rough estimate of the build-out cost (renovations) and monthly rent. The information you collect will go into your business plan and financial projections.

Once you have validated your idea, performed in-depth research, identified target demographics and possible locations, and performed competitive analysis, you are ready for the next step. So far, you have put together informal pieces of a business plan. Now, it’s time to write down information in a document as part of a formal business plan.

Step 3: Write a Business Plan

When you’re just starting your business, a business plan, along with a solid business philosophy , can help you plot your future. Additionally, a business plan is an opportunity to show why and how your business will become a success. All businesses need to create a business plan or a strategic roadmap to guide their business decisions.

The business plan contains several elements, including market analysis, competitor analysis, and financial projections. If you’re seeking funding from a bank or investor, you will need a business plan. The plan shows on paper how you will start your own business. After you open, the document keeps you focused and on track with your goals.

A typical business plan may contain over 40 pages of info about your business. You should plan on spending at least 30 hours creating a well-researched business plan. In addition to writing the plan, you will also spend time doing market research and creating financial projections.

Planning to launch a very small business such as a side business? Creating a one-page business plan might be better. With this plan, you’ll write a couple of sentences for important business concepts. It should include items such as the business model (how will it make money?) and competitive advantage (what will it do better than competitors?).

You should plan on spending around an hour to write out a one-page business plan. The simplified financial projections will be the most challenging and time-consuming. You most likely will need to do research online to get accurate income and expense estimates.

Download our one-page business plan template to start your business planning today.

Showing a graphic of one-page business plan.

Most business owners can easily do the research and write the plan. Where most have difficulty are the financial projections, which require creating several financial documents. If you don’t have a financial analysis background or interest, it’s a wise strategy to purchase business plan software that walks you through the financial projection process.

Related: 4 Types Of Business Plans (Plus Software & Writing Services)

Here are nine sections to include in your traditional business plan:

  • Opening Organizational and Legal Pages: Cover page, nondisclosure agreement, and a table of contents
  • Executive Summary: A summary of the entire business plan in fewer than two pages; Complete this section last
  • Company Summary: Basics of the company, such as its history, location, facilities, company ownership, and competitive advantage
  • Products and Services: How your business makes money (business model), the products or services it provides, and future products or services
  • Market and Industry Analysis: Analysis of potential customers and industry. Include any data here about your current (or ideal) customers, business industry, and competitors
  • Marketing Strategy and Implementation Summary: Discussion of marketing, sales, and pricing strategies
  • Management and Organization Summary: Business ownership and operation. (If your business isn’t open yet, give a compelling reason why your background will make it a success. Include information on any managers in the business as well.)
  • Financial Data and Analysis: Financial projections such as a profit and loss statement, projected cash flow, and business ratios
  • Appendix: Any documents or information that doesn’t fit in the above categories goes in the appendix. You may want to include documents such as a floor plan, trademark, or marketing materials.

This might be a big undertaking for some, so there are business plan writing services you can seek help from. Alternatively, Here are some industry-specific business plan templates that can help:

  • How To Write an SBA Business Plan [+Free Template]
  • 4 Free Retail & Online Store Business Plans
  • How to Write a Real Estate Business Plan (+ Free Template)

Learn More: How to Write a Business Plan

Step 4: Acquire Funding

Obtaining financing for your startup business may be the biggest challenge you face in your company’s infancy.

If you don’t have sufficient personal funds to start your business, you’ll need to secure additional funds. There are several funding options available for soon-to-be business owners, including several types of loans, investors, and crowdfunding.

No matter which type of startup financing your business applies for, you can increase the chances of getting a small business loan by preparing a solid business plan, improving your personal credit score , saving up personal capital, building your business’ customer base, and maintaining updated financial projections .

Family & Friends

A popular saying that many in startup financing like to say is, “You should always look to family, friends, and fools for funding before an investor or loan.” The reason is that family and friends (and fools) are the cheapest sources of capital.

The main downside of securing capital from family and friends is the potential for a damaged relationship. To avoid this, draw up an agreement that states how and when you need to pay back the funds.

A loan is a sum of money that needs to be paid back with interest. Business loan amounts can range anywhere from under $1,000 to over $1,000,000.

Just because you may qualify for a loan doesn’t mean you should use it. Start your small business with as little debt as possible. Remember, if your business were to fail, you would still need to pay off the debt you incurred, which could take several years.

Here are several different types of loans to fund your business:

  • 10 Best Business Credit Cards for Startups
  • 10 Best Sole Proprietorship Business Credit Cards
  • 6 Best Instant Approval Business Credit Cards
  • 6 Best Credit Cards for New Businesses With No Credit History
  • 8 Best LLC Credit Cards
  • 13 Best Small Business Credit Cards
  • 6 Best Personal Loans for Business Funding
  • Business Loans vs Personal Loans: Which Is Best for Your Small Business

See also: 7 Best Rollover for Business Startups (ROBS) Providers

  • Home equity loan or line of credit : These loans pull equity out of your home for a loan. They are appealing because of their low-interest rate.

See also: SBA Microloans: What They Are & How to Apply

  • SBA Loan Requirements
  • How to Get an SBA Loan in 4 Steps
  • How to Get an SBA Startup Loan in 6 Steps
  • SBA Community Advantage Loan: What It Is & How to Apply
  • Understanding the SBA Guarantee Fee

See also: How to Get Unsecured Startup Business Loans in 6 Steps

Find an Angel Investor

An angel investor is typically a wealthy individual who funds early-stage businesses. Investors usually want equity ownership in businesses they invest their money in. Having ownership means they will collect a percent of your profits in exchange for their investment. Read more about the pros and cons of angel investments .


Crowdfunding a small business is when you get customers to pre-order products or services. It’s a great way to raise funds before opening your business or creating a product.

Kickstarter and Indiegogo are crowdfunding platforms that assist with raising the money for your business. The cost to use the platforms is 5% of the final price raised plus payment processing fees, which are around 3%.

  • Pros and Cons of Business Crowdfunding
  • 11 Best Crowdfunding Sites for Small Businesses

Apply for Business Grants

Business grants are funds given to start a business that doesn’t have to be repaid. Federal, state, and local governments are common sources of grants. Many new business owners seek them, but they are hard to find.

A business grant is typically reserved for a particular type of business, such as a research-based business. Grants may also come in forms other than money, such as reduced rent to open a business in a disadvantaged area designated by a city.

  • 8 Best Small Business Grants
  • 8 Great Minority Small Business Grants
  • 13 Best Small Business Grants for Women

Apply for Venture Capital Funding

Venture capital is private equity designed to help startups with long-term growth potential scale. In this arrangement, groups of investors pool money to fund a startup in exchange for equity. Typically, venture capitalist firms also shape the strategies of the companies, provide expertise, and make introductions. Read more about the disadvantages and advantages of venture capital funding .

Learn More: Startup Business Loans: The 7 Best Ways to Fund Your Startup

Step 5: Choose a Business Structure & Register Your Business

After acquiring funding, it is time to file the necessary legal paperwork and register your business. You want to take the steps below to comply with city, state, and federal laws. You also want to protect your personal assets if something happens in your business that results in a lawsuit. Additionally, if you have a unique business idea, you want to protect that from competitors.

The cost of registering a business varies between $40 to $500, depending on the state in which you choose to register. You can register through the state’s official business registration website. If you find the website challenging to navigate, use an online legal service such as Rocket Lawyer to assist with the process.

Registering your business is a must-do before taking on your first customer. You don’t want to start your business and not be properly prepared to deal with something like a trademark infringement or a home-based business inspection from a city official. To ensure the business registration process doesn’t become overwhelming, use our checklist to keep track of what has been accomplished and what needs to be completed.

Infographic with steps on how to register a business.

Prepare to Register Your Business

This may only include obtaining an employment identification number (EIN), opening a business bank account, and registering the business as a legal entity in the state in which it operates.

Or registering your business can be several tasks including those above in addition to obtaining a professional business license, getting a State Taxpayer Identification Number, and passing a city health inspection. It’s best to prepare for these tasks in advance to ensure they go smoothly.

  • Choose a business name. Before taking any legal steps below, you need to decide on your business name. This is important to do first because your business name will be on all of your legal documents. Know that you don’t have to stick with this name forever. If you’d like to change the public-facing name of your business, you can always file a DBA (doing business as) registration with the state in which your business is primarily located. Try our business name generator if you need help coming up with a name for your business.
  • Choose a location to receive important documents. Your city or state may require certain documents to be signed and will mail them to you. Additionally, your state will mail documents to your address every year to remind you to re-register your business. It’s important to re-register on time because the late fee is often higher than the initial registration cost.
  • Obtain your Employment Identification Number (EIN ). Your EIN is a federal business number provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to primarily identify your business for tax purposes. It’s free to obtain your EIN and you will use it on several documents. Many banks require an EIN before opening a business bank account.

See also: Can I Open a Business Bank Account Without an EIN?

  • Open a business bank account. It’s important to open a business bank account before incurring any business expenses. This ensures you’re not mixing personal and business expenses. Many banks require a balance of at least $1,500 or they deduct a monthly fee.

Choose Your Business Structure

We recommend all businesses register as a legal entity, such as a limited liability company (LLC), S corporation, or C corporation. Registering your business as a legal entity protects your personal assets if a lawsuit were to ever occur against the business.

Research and determine the right type of legal entity for your business. While these legal entities have different pros and cons , they all achieve the vital goal of separating the business owner from personal financial liability if the business were sued or went bankrupt.

Here are the most common business structures:

  • Sole proprietor: If you don’t register your business, this is the default business structure. Typically, only very low liability businesses should stay a sole proprietor, such as a beginner graphic designer or tutor.
  • Partnership: Similar to a sole proprietor, except a partnership has two or more owners.
  • LLC and LLP (legal entity) : This is similar to that of a sole proprietor, except it provides personal asset protection in the event of a lawsuit or business bankruptcy. An LLP (limited liability partnership) is for multiple partners.
  • S corporation (tax status) : Elect your LLC or LLP as an S-corp to save money on taxes. Consider this structure if you are paying yourself more than $20,000 per year from the business.
  • C corporation (legal entity) : This business structure provides several benefits, including transferable shares and perpetual existence. You’ll likely need to work with an attorney before forming a C-corp to create the needed documents.

Here is a snapshot of the different business structures you can consider and their key advantages and disadvantages.

Register Your Business With the State

Now that you’ve done the research and chosen your business’ legal entity, it’s time to submit the entity registration to the state it’s operating in. You can do this on your own by navigating to your state government’s business registration website. Or you can use an online legal service to assist you in the process. Additionally, if your business has a sales tax, you’ll want to obtain a state sales tax identification number (STIN).

Get State Licenses & Local Permits

Depending on your type of business, you may need a professional license issued by the state or a local permit. Additionally, if you work from home and receive customers or employees, you may need to obtain a work-from-home license.

  • State professional licenses are typically for businesses that may pose a public health risk. Each state may require different professions to obtain a professional license.
  • Local license and permit requirements vary by state; however, typically, before opening a physical location you’ll need a local building inspection to ensure the facility is safe for the public.
  • A home-based business license is needed if you’re accepting employees and customers or creating products from your home. This license is to ensure the business isn’t causing a public health risk. However, Most businesses that operate from a home won’t need a license.

Secure Your Intellectual Property

Although it’s not necessary to start your business, you may want to register a trademark, copyright, or patent. A trademark ensures no other business uses your logo, business name, or tagline. A copyright gives you increased legal protection over your creative work. A patent ensures no one can take your product idea.

  • Trademark Costs: DIY Registration vs Online Service vs Lawyer
  • How Much Does a Patent Cost? The Beginner’s Guide

Step 6: Get Your Business Insured

Business insurance is a form of protection small business owners can buy to safeguard their personal or business assets. Getting the appropriate coverage for your operations protects your assets by covering customer lawsuits, property damage, and other perils so the costs following a disaster don’t put you out of business.

Most businesses deal with third parties who may claim your business caused their property damage, bodily harm, or financial loss. Different types of business insurance cover these accusations by paying the associated costs.

Certain small business insurance policies are considered fundamental because they protect against risks that most business owners face. General liability is a good example of this because it covers claims that your business is responsible for someone else’s damages. Many business owners also get commercial property insurance because it pays for damages to their property.

Common Types of Small Business Insurance Policies

How to get business insurance.

Small business owners can get business insurance online through brokers or directly from carriers. To get the appropriate coverage for your business, it’s important to first assess your risks and then to find providers who offer coverage that protects against them.

  • 6 Best Small Business Insurance Companies
  • 6 Ways To Save Money on Business Insurance

Because no business is immune to general liability claims, getting coverage should be a standard business practice. However, cash-strapped small business owners who are looking for inexpensive general liability insurance should remember that price shouldn’t be the only consideration. Smart business owners evaluate coverage limits, additional fees, and the carrier’s reputation as well.

Step 7: Build Your Business Team

After taking care of the necessary legal steps to get your business registered and protected, it is now time to make key hires. Your first employees will be vital to the success of your business. Additionally, many new business owners overlook the importance of hires outside of the business such as a bookkeeper, attorneys, and mentors.

Connect With a Business Attorney

A business attorney may help you form your new business, create custom forms or contracts, and provide legal advice. Even if you won’t need an attorney for these activities, it’s wise to connect with one before a legal matter occurs in your business. You don’t want the stress of interviewing business attorneys after your company has been served.

Meet With a No-cost Business Adviser

The federal and state government funds several organizations that provide no-cost business consulting and mentoring. The SBDC has over 5,000 consultants across the United States that provide no-cost consulting in a variety of business areas. These consultants typically have advanced education or experience owning a business.

SCORE Advisers are volunteers who typically have previously owned a business. They serve as mentors to business owners. A SCORE Adviser can be a great asset to your business, especially if they have experience in your industry.

Hire Your First Employee

Hiring great employees is the key to growing your business. A thoughtful hiring process includes well-written job descriptions, effective recruitment ads, and strong interview processes, all of which should promote your values and culture and adhere to fair labor practices.

Many first-time business owners find employees online these days —through job boards , LinkedIn , Facebook, and Instagram. You will likely hire your first employee through word-of-mouth or from one of your family members or friends .

  • How to Hire Employees
  • How to Create a New Hire Checklist [+ Free Template]
  • 10 Best Startup Hiring Tips for Finding Top Candidates
  • Hiring Bias: 13 Unfair Prejudices & How to Avoid Them
  • New Employee Onboarding Best Practices: Steps & Checklist

Hire a Bookkeeper or Accountant

If you’re starting a part-time business, you can likely track your income and expenses with software such as QuickBooks Online. However, if you have a full-time business with multiple products and services and have several expenses to track, you may want to hire a professional.

Many new business owners are unsure if they should hire a bookkeeper or accountant, but most people starting a small business only need a bookkeeper . If you need complicated financial statements or business tax advice, it’s wise to hire a certified public accountant (CPA).

Step 8: Set Up Your Business Systems & Software

As you organize your business, you will find yourself creating systems to manage repeatable tasks and ultimately increase profits . You’ll often find software to assist with the tasks.

Below you’ll find two lists—one with processes and systems that almost all new small businesses will need to implement. The second list includes several systems and software that—if they apply to you—are highly recommended.

Must-have Systems & Software

  • Payment processing: You’ll need this to accept credit card payments . Sign up with a merchant service provider before setting this up.
  • Bookkeeping: This is how you track income and expenses. If you are managing it yourself, you’ll need accounting software . If not managing yourself, consider hiring a virtual bookkeeper .
  • Payroll processing: If you have employees, you’ll use this system to pay them. To make the process easier, consider payroll processing software .
  • Business tax payments: It’s a best practice to make business tax payments to the IRS quarterly so you don’t have a large tax bill at the end of the year. Aside from tax software , you can often use your accounting and payroll software to submit early tax payments.
  • Business phone number: You’ll want to secure a business phone number so that you can separate personal calls from business calls. You can get a virtual phone line for free or for a small fee .
  • Branded business email address: You don’t want potential customers to email a “@gmail,” “@yahoo,” or another alternative. It looks unprofessional. Get a business email that ends with “@yourcompanyname” so that it looks more professional . Google Workspace provides this for $6 a month.

Additional Systems & Software to Consider

  • Business website: If potential customers are typing your business name into the search engines, you need a business website . You can set one up yourself and pay around $15 a month. Here are small business website examples you can use for inspiration.
  • Sell online: Expand your products’ or services’ reach by selling to customers online . You can build an ecommerce website or use a platform such as Amazon , Facebook Shop , Instagram , or Etsy .
  • Customer management: If you have dozens of customers (or more), you’ll need customer relationship management (CRM) software . This software helps you keep track of customer information such as previous communications and contact info.
  • Appointment scheduling: Don’t schedule appointments by hand (unless you want to). Use free appointment scheduling software to store your appointments in the cloud. Also, allow clients to schedule online without communicating with you.
  • Work from home: COVID-19 is forcing and encouraging many people to work from home for the first time. Set up your home office and manage it so that you can keep up productivity and enjoy your working environment.
  • Take video calls: Video meetings and calls have skyrocketed since the pandemic arrived. Give your clients the option to meet through video conferencing software .

Overwhelmed? Don’t be. Free business software helps your company save money and become efficient. You can use free business tools to do accounting, accept payments, and pay employees.

If you’re starting a business, going with free business tools is a great way to keep operating expenses at a minimum. Free business tools are a low-risk test as you figure out the best systems and software for you. If you like them, keep them and possibly expand their features with a paid version. If you don’t like them, stop using the software with no added costs to your business.

Step 9: Market Your Business

Your last step to starting your business is to get customers. You’ll use your marketing strategy to get your new business in front of potential customers.

There are a lot of strategies you can implement to get your business noticed. Don’t get overwhelmed! Remember, you don’t have to implement—and pay for—all of these strategies. A few done well will get your business enough customers to make it a success.

Before diving headfirst into any of the marketing strategies, take time to write a marketing plan . Think through and plan out how you want to market your business. In your plan, outline your brand, such as the logo, colors, font, and tagline.

At a minimum, you’ll want to create business cards to hand out to potential customers and vendors or while networking. Other marketing materials to consider are brochures , flyers , cards , and branded apparel. Many new business owners make the mistake of relying too much on online marketing. Don’t overlook the effectiveness of having physical business marketing materials in someone’s home.

Market Online

  • Social media marketing : Connect with your customers where they are spending their time online. Don’t try to grow a following on all social media platforms. Choose one and spend the majority of your time growing your account there.
  • Email marketing : Stay in touch with past customers by sending them valuable or entertaining emails . Don’t make your emails all about sales and discounts. You’ll lose subscribers.
  • Content marketing : Create and distribute articles, videos, case studies, and other forms of online content created to attract leads, create brand awareness, move prospects through the buying journey, or convert them to customers.
  • Google My Business (GMB) listing : This listing is free for all businesses looking for local customers. Many marketers are calling GMB the new small business “homepage.” It’s what customers see on Google before your website when they search for your business.
  • Online directories : It’s likely your business can be on several online directories such as Yelp and Yellow Pages . Consider any industry-specific directories as well.

Network With Local Businesses

When you first open, explore networking groups available for local businesses. It’s always a good idea to meet and network with other business owners. Word-of-mouth recommendations and referrals may lead to some of your first customers.

Related: 8 Business Networking Statistics to Generate New Opportunities

Pay for Advertising

You may want to pay to get your business in front of ideal customers. This paid marketing can give your brand recognition a jump-start. You can pay for advertising online or through traditional advertising channels.

  • Search engine ads : Pay to get your business at the top of Google or Microsoft . Typically, you will pay every time an interested searcher clicks on your ad. The cost of the click will depend on the number of businesses competing for the ad space.
  • Social media ads : Get your social media ad in front of both followers and nonfollowers. Ad cost depends on the competitiveness of the audience you’re targeting.
  • Online directory leads: Depending on the directory, you can pay for higher rankings or leads. Yelp provides both options.
  • Direct mail : Create cards or brochures and send them to homes of potential customers near your business.
  • Radio ads : This type of advertising is an excellent option if your business appeals to an audience in a broad industry such as retail or home improvement.
  • Billboards : The cost of a billboard varies depending on location. Pay anywhere from $250 per month for a rural area to over $15,000 per month in a larger market.

Media Package

You want local media to know about your new business. Local media prefers information about your business submitted to them in a press release. A press release is a summary and story of your business. You also want to include owner headshots and photos of the business in the press kit . It’s important to include a hook, which is a way to present your business that creates interest so that the business journalist will cover the opening of your startup.

Learn More: 11 Strategies to Market a New Business

How to Start a Small Business Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Click through the questions below to get answers to some of your most frequently asked starting a small business questions.

How can I start a small business with no money?

A business can be started with no money, but it is not recommended. You aren’t required to spend money to register your business. When you don’t register, it is called a sole proprietorship. The problem with not registering is that your personal assets are at risk. For example, if you’re starting a lawn care business and something costly gets destroyed at a customer’s property, that customer can sue you for damages, and your personal assets are at risk.

What is the easiest business to start up?

The easiest business to start is one that relies on your expertise. People pay you for your expertise because you know more than they do. For example, if you are a social media manager for a business, you can take your social media marketing expertise and charge local businesses to manage their accounts.

There is little cost to this type of business because your time and expertise are the product.

How much does it cost to start a small business?

Starting a business does not need to cost a lot of money. If you’re providing a service like resume writing, the only cost is registering the business in your state. As you add additional components to your business like a website, accounting software, and a branded email address, your business costs will increase. For example, adding a low-cost website is another $100 or more per year. A branded email address will cost another $100 or more per year.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all the tasks to start your business, don’t stress! Starting a business is a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient. Give yourself time to absorb and understand the above steps.

“The truth is, success is a process—you can ask anybody who’s been successful.” – Oprah Winfrey

Be proud that you’re learning and trying to figure out this messy world of starting a business. Make your next move today: What micro-step are you taking today to make your idea a reality?

About the Author

Agatha Aviso

Find Agatha On LinkedIn

Agatha Aviso

Agatha Aviso is a retail software expert writer at Fit Small Business. She specializes in evaluating ecommerce and retail software features that help small businesses grow. She has evaluated dozens of the top software for retail SMBs. Agatha has more than 10 years of experience writing online content for both small business owners as well as the marketing industry. She also served as a content strategist and digital marketing manager for many entrepreneurs.

By downloading, you’ll automatically subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Join Fit Small Business

Sign up to receive more well-researched small business articles and topics in your inbox, personalized for you. Select the newsletters you’re interested in below.

Our Recommendations

  • Best Small Business Loans for 2024
  • Businessloans.com Review
  • Biz2Credit Review
  • SBG Funding Review
  • Rapid Finance Review
  • 26 Great Business Ideas for Entrepreneurs
  • Startup Costs: How Much Cash Will You Need?
  • How to Get a Bank Loan for Your Small Business
  • Articles of Incorporation: What New Business Owners Should Know
  • How to Choose the Best Legal Structure for Your Business

Small Business Resources

  • Business Ideas
  • Business Plans
  • Startup Basics
  • Startup Funding
  • Franchising
  • Success Stories
  • Entrepreneurs
  • The Best Credit Card Processors of 2024
  • Clover Credit Card Processing Review
  • Merchant One Review
  • Stax Review
  • How to Conduct a Market Analysis for Your Business
  • Local Marketing Strategies for Success
  • Tips for Hiring a Marketing Company
  • Benefits of CRM Systems
  • 10 Employee Recruitment Strategies for Success
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Social Media
  • Best Business Phone Systems of 2024
  • The Best PEOs of 2024
  • RingCentral Review
  • Nextiva Review
  • Ooma Review
  • Guide to Developing a Training Program for New Employees
  • How Does 401(k) Matching Work for Employers?
  • Why You Need to Create a Fantastic Workplace Culture
  • 16 Cool Job Perks That Keep Employees Happy
  • 7 Project Management Styles
  • Women in Business
  • Personal Growth
  • Best Accounting Software and Invoice Generators of 2024
  • Best Payroll Services for 2024
  • Best POS Systems for 2024
  • Best CRM Software of 2024
  • Best Call Centers and Answering Services for Busineses for 2024
  • Salesforce vs. HubSpot: Which CRM Is Right for Your Business?
  • Rippling vs Gusto: An In-Depth Comparison
  • RingCentral vs. Ooma Comparison
  • Choosing a Business Phone System: A Buyer’s Guide
  • Equipment Leasing: A Guide for Business Owners
  • HR Solutions
  • Financial Solutions
  • Marketing Solutions
  • Security Solutions
  • Retail Solutions
  • SMB Solutions

11 Things to Do Before Starting a Business

author image

Table of Contents

Starting a business can be stressful. It often feels like there are 1,000 things to work on all at the same time. There’s no avoiding this reality for new small business owners. Still, with a little planning, it’s possible to manage expectations and take actions with a sense of purpose toward building your business.

Launch your business: Starting a business is a lot of work, but we’re here to help! Check out our useful resources for everything you need to successfully build your business from the ground up.

  • How to Start a Business: A Step-by-Step Guide
  • Tax and Business Forms You’ll Need to Start a Business
  • 20 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a Business

Beyond giving it your all, it’s important to direct your energy to the right tasks – especially at first. Some good first steps in starting a business are researching competitors, assessing the legal aspects of your industry, considering your personal and business finances, getting realistic about the risk involved, understanding timing, and hiring help.

11 tasks to complete before starting a business

To make sure you’re prepared before launching your business, make sure you’ve completed these 11 important tasks. Doing so will better position you and your new company for success.

1. Do your research.

graphic of a person sitting at a laptop

You want to make sure you understand the industry you’ll be involved in so you can dominate it. Even if you think your business idea is unique, you should be aware of competitors, said Ian Wright, founder of British Business Energy.

“Just because you have a brilliant idea does not mean other people haven’t also had the same idea,” said Wright. “If you can’t offer something better and/or cheaper than your competitors, you might want to rethink starting a business in that area.”

2. Determine your audience.

Spend time considering who your target demographic is. This audience will be the driving force in each decision you make. Understanding who needs your product or service can help fine-tune your offerings and ensure your marketing and sales strategies are reaching the right people. Part of this decision is understanding if you are a business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) enterprise. Within those parameters are multiple categories, including, but certainly not limited to, age, gender, income and profession. You can’t earn a profit without your customers, so understand who they are and make them your priority.

“It is crucial to make sure you are delivering what your customer wants, not what you want,” said Sonia Lakhany, attorney at Lakhany Law. “This will give you insight into your customer’s buying decision and save you lots of experimenting down the road.”

Know whom you’re talking to. A defined target market will help you better acquire new and repeat customers.

3. Have a strong mission.

Standing out is no easy feat, and no one magic formula guarantees results. However, knowing your business’s purpose is central to guiding these decisions. By recognizing your business’s strengths, differences and purpose, you can make informed choices to expand your services and markets down the line in a way that is harmonious.

4. Choose a structure.

A key initial step to take when starting your business is choosing its legal structure, said business attorney Mason Cole of Cole Sadkin LLC. “It will dictate the taxes, paperwork, liability of the owner(s) [and] other legal aspects, as well as whether or not the company can have employees,” he said. 

Additionally, you must acquire the proper local and state registration required to open your business.

“This means the entrepreneur will need to create the articles of incorporation, obtain an employer identification number and apply for necessary licenses, which will vary by state and industry,” Cole said.

5. Map your finances.

graphic of two business people shaking hands outside of a bank

Starting a business requires money that you likely won’t have right away. This is why you need to seek out ways to acquire capital.

“Most entrepreneurs start a business with a very limited amount of capital, which is a large hurdle to many,” said Cole. “However, plenty of options are available to a budding business owner. The first and most common place to seek capital is with friends and family. If that is not enough, expand the search to angel investors and venture capitalists . Should these options not provide the amount needed, then apply for business loans through banks and small business associations.”

Make a plan for how you will fund startup costs, whether that’s using your own funds, asking friends and family for money, or borrowing from a financial institution.

6. Understand your tax burden.

Travis Sickle, a certified financial planner at Sickle Hunter Financial Advisors, advises entrepreneurs to be organized with taxes and fees. There are multiple payments to make, and filing any of them late could result in severe consequences.

“You have to figure out how much your payroll will be to make your tax payments timely,” said Sickle. “The timing can vary depending on your payroll. You must also figure out other business taxes, such as city, county and state.”

7. Understand the risk.

Of course, launching a new business venture will always involve a level of risk. Calculating, understanding and planning for risk is an important step to take before you start working on your business. This means assessing your industry’s risks before developing a business plan.

“ Entrepreneurs should know their industry’s risks before purchasing business insurance,” said Jeff Somers, COO of HouseCanary. “For example, accountants will want to consider professional liability insurance if a client files a lawsuit, claiming a costly error on their tax return. Restaurant owners are more likely to need general liability for slip-and-fall accidents and liquor liability insurance, which can pay for lawsuits.”

8. Put together a business plan.

graphic of a businessperson holding a tablet in front of a large bar graph

A business plan outlines the steps you need to take for a successful launch and continued growth. This document is important for establishing a focus for your business, attracting C-level professionals to work for you and seeking and retaining capital. A business plan ensures you put your best foot forward with other professionals who are evaluating your company, so be sure to have this document on the back burner and ready when requested. [Looking for help putting together a business plan? Check out our tips on how to write a business plan .]

Take the time to put together the main components, including:

  • Your mission statement
  • A description of your business
  • A list of your products or services
  • An analysis of the current market and opportunity
  • A list of decision-makers in the company, along with their bios
  • Your financial plan so those who review can understand the opportunity

9. Time it right.

Timing is an important element of building a business. Sure, you want to start your business at a time when the economy is healthy and your prospective industry is expanding, but there’s also a flow to decision-making that’s important to be aware of. Kevin MacCauley, founder and CEO of Upper Hand, said it’s important to be decisive when building a business.

“I wish I understood how detrimental the role of time [can be] in building a business,” he said. “You only have so much time to find out if you’ve made the right business decisions . As I once read, if you’re 70 percent of the way to making a decision, make the decision. If you try to get to 90 percent, you’ve waited too long. If I could have had that mindset from day one, I would probably have had fewer sleepless nights when I was going through tough times.”

10. Look for a mentor or advisor.

Starting a business should not be an independent journey, no matter how tempting that sounds. Finding those who have made this journey before can help set you up for success. Network with other professionals in your industry, attend industry-specific workshops and events, and reach out to thought leaders in your industry to learn their approach. Alternatively, you may want to consider hiring a coach who can give you pointed advice.

11. Bring in the professionals.

graphic of a businessman holding a scale

Entrepreneurs can’t know everything about running their new venture. Tapping into seasoned professionals’ experience can ensure you’re starting on the right foot.

It’s especially important to have legal assistance to ensure you are protected and going about the process correctly.

“We often assume that legal counsel is for when we get ourselves into trouble, but preventative and proactive legal preparation can be the best way to set your business on the path to long-term success,” said Katy Blevins, CEO of Season of Katy. “When you call on legal counsel after you’ve run into a problem, it’s often too late or could critically impact your business in both the short and long term. Investing in their insight at the start of your business can pay a huge return later on by keeping you out of trouble before you even get into it.”

Another smart hire is an accountant. It’s nearly impossible for one person to handle every aspect of a company, and above all, your finances should not be put at risk.

“I had a full-time job as I considered starting my own business in 2009, but I did a lot of groundwork before I started, and bringing on an accountant was an important step,” said Sarah Burningham, president and founder of Little Bird Publicity. “It helped me understand what I needed to do to make this work from a profit standpoint, [as well as] the ins and outs of state, federal and local taxes.”

Starting a business right can lead to success

Starting a business is a lot of work, but if you do it the right way, you can set yourself up for a successful entrepreneurial journey. By following the tips in this guide and taking advantage of the resources we’ve included, you can build a strong foundation upon which to grow your business. Remember, becoming a small business owner is a journey filled with ups and downs, but if you develop a flexible plan and adapt to changing conditions, you can meet any challenge that comes your way!


Building Better Businesses

Insights on business strategy and culture, right to your inbox. Part of the business.com network.

  • Business Essentials
  • Leadership & Management
  • Credential of Leadership, Impact, and Management in Business (CLIMB)
  • Entrepreneurship & Innovation
  • Digital Transformation
  • Finance & Accounting
  • Business in Society
  • For Organizations
  • Support Portal
  • Media Coverage
  • Founding Donors
  • Leadership Team

before starting your business plan

  • Harvard Business School →
  • HBS Online →
  • Business Insights →

Business Insights

Harvard Business School Online's Business Insights Blog provides the career insights you need to achieve your goals and gain confidence in your business skills.

  • Career Development
  • Communication
  • Decision-Making
  • Earning Your MBA
  • Negotiation
  • News & Events
  • Productivity
  • Staff Spotlight
  • Student Profiles
  • Work-Life Balance
  • AI Essentials for Business
  • Alternative Investments
  • Business Analytics
  • Business Strategy
  • Business and Climate Change
  • Design Thinking and Innovation
  • Digital Marketing Strategy
  • Disruptive Strategy
  • Economics for Managers
  • Entrepreneurship Essentials
  • Financial Accounting
  • Global Business
  • Launching Tech Ventures
  • Leadership Principles
  • Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Accountability
  • Leading with Finance
  • Management Essentials
  • Negotiation Mastery
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Power and Influence for Positive Impact
  • Strategy Execution
  • Sustainable Business Strategy
  • Sustainable Investing
  • Winning with Digital Platforms

6 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Business

Aspiring entrepreneur at computer

  • 14 Jul 2020

If you’re considering starting your own business, you’re not alone. Between 2020 and 2021, more than 838,000 new businesses were founded in the United States.

Being an entrepreneur has many perks, such as setting your own hours, the flexibility of where you work, and the satisfaction of building something from the ground up. Yet, there are also some drawbacks as the chances of success aren't guaranteed. Half of all startups fail within five years of being incorporated.

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond currently controlled resources. When you hear the word “entrepreneur,” you might think of Apple’s Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, or OWN’s Oprah Winfrey, who each saw a need in the market and filled it with an original product or delivery system. Their respective businesses have not only been successful, but changed the landscape of their respective fields—from personal electronics to digital media. Each took risks and were met with immense rewards, but not all entrepreneurs are so lucky.

So, what does it take to be a successful entrepreneur ? In the online course Entrepreneurship Essentials , Harvard Business School Professor William Sahlman warns against falling back on stereotypes, noting that great entrepreneurs can come from a diverse range of demographics.

Although there’s no single characteristic that makes a perfect entrepreneur, some common traits of successful ones include curiosity, adaptability, decisiveness, and innovation.

Aspiring entrepreneurs who possess these characteristics should take note of their personal goals and create an effective business plan to achieve them. This type of foresight is incredibly helpful when launching any type of business.

What Makes A Successful Business?

Behind every successful business is an idea that solves a problem. This means that from the earliest stages of the process, entrepreneurs must be aware of their target audience and the needs the product or service will fulfill. This takes the guesswork out of future marketing strategies since the mission of the business is clearly defined.

Another element to a successful startup is the support of experienced business counselors. Starting a new business is no easy feat, which means guidance from skilled individuals who have launched and run companies can be invaluable. You can seek out these professionals through various networking opportunities, such as entrepreneurship counseling or the HBS Online Community , or find a mentor within your existing professional network who can give you insight into the market.

It’s also crucial to choose your business partners wisely. Find individuals who share the same vision and possess strengths that complement your weaknesses. It’s not enough to be friends with your business partners; you must define the expectations you have as a team from the start and be equipped to solve disagreements in a productive way. One way to lay the foundation for a strong business partnership is by ensuring all parties have a clear understanding of what starting a business requires.

Is starting a business the right choice for you? First, be sure to ask yourself these initial questions.

Access your free e-book today.

Questions to Ask When Starting a Business

1. is now the right time to start a business.

Your idea may never take off if you try to start your business at an inopportune time. Are you currently in a position to pursue entrepreneurship? Consider your relationships, financial wellbeing, and physical health. For instance, if you recently welcomed a baby into your family, you may not have enough time and energy to dedicate to the growth of your business.

On the flip side, perhaps you’ve recently been laid off from your role in corporate finance. This turn of events could spark an ambition that can be poured into starting your new venture, backed by your professional experience.

It’s also important to consider if the timing is right in the broader economy and the specific market you want to enter. You should ensure your offering meets a current need.

For instance, take the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the preparation to reopen offices. These unique circumstances have generated a need for companies to prevent the spread of germs and enforce social distancing, while allowing employees to work alongside one another. It’s an opportune time for someone who, for example, wants to produce and sell transparent cubicle partitions, because that product fills a market need.

2. Do You Have a Business Idea, and Is That Idea an Opportunity?

When starting your own business, you need to know what you plan to sell. If you haven’t fleshed out those details yet, brainstorm using the following prompts:

  • Why does it take so long to ____?
  • Why does ____ cost so much?
  • Can I deliver ____ with a new business model?
  • What can I change about ____ to improve it?

Your idea doesn’t need to be a new invention—it simply needs to fill an unmet need. If you have an idea for an original product, that’s great, but an improvement to an existing product’s cost, production, functionality, or accessibility can go a long way. Take Uber, for instance: Uber didn’t invent the idea of ride-sharing (taxis have been around since 1897 ), but it delivers the service in a new, innovative way.

You should also determine whether your business idea is an opportunity.

In Entrepreneurship Essentials , opportunity is defined as "a proposed venture to sell a product or service for which customers are willing to pay more than the required investments and operating costs." In other words, people must be willing to pay more for your offering than you’ll spend creating it.

To find out if your idea is an opportunity, first come up with a hypothesis. For instance, “I hypothesize that businesses would be willing to pay $150 per transparent cubicle partition.”

Next, test your hypothesis by conducting market research. Sahlman recommends reaching out to strangers from your target market segment, rather than friends, family, and colleagues, who may sing false praises. The feedback you receive can inform if your hypothesis was correct, or whether you need to test other hypotheses.

3. Are You Prepared to Pivot and Adapt?

Entrepreneurship is an iterative process. If you know that adapting to new information and pivoting when original ideas fall flat aren’t your strengths, develop those abilities before becoming an entrepreneur.

With your earlier hypothesis in mind, say your research tells you 75 percent of people you interviewed aren’t willing to pay $150 per transparent cubicle partition. Given this information, you need to adapt.

You test further hypotheses and discover the majority of your target segment is willing to pay the original $150 if the transparent cubicle partitions are both high-quality and easy to install and remove. This leads to the development of a new prototype, reassessment of the cost to manufacture, and another round of hypothesis testing.

The ability to adapt and frequently pivot, especially in the early stages of your business, is essential.

Related: Tips for Scaling Your Business

4. Do You Have a Strong Team, or the Ability to Form One?

No successful entrepreneur got to where they are by themselves.

“All great companies, even those with iconic entrepreneurs, had many other people who were involved and, without whom, the company might not have made it so big,” Sahlman says.

In Entrepreneurship Essentials , Apple is used as an example to illustrate the power of a team on a growing business.

“Steve Wozniak was the engineering genius behind the company’s early products,” Sahlman says.

Shortly after it was incorporated, Mike Markkula and Mike Scott joined as seasoned executives who proved themselves essential to the company’s growth. Steve Jobs, who had previously been forced out of the company, returned to Apple when it was on the verge of failure and revitalized its products. Without each of them, and countless others on their teams, Apple would not be where it is today.

If you decide to start a business, keep in mind that successful business owners know when to ask for help and delegate tasks. Whether that means starting your business with a partner or two, building a strong team as you grow, or simply accepting any help and advice you can, know that your potential success relies on the strength of the people around you.

Related: 10 Tips to Help You Boost Team Performance

5. Are You Prepared for the Possibility of Failure?

Entrepreneurs must be prepared for the possibility of failure when starting a business. In Entrepreneurship Essentials , Sahlman notes that 70 percent of businesses survive for two years, 50 percent last five years, and only 25 percent make it 15 years.

“Though every entrepreneur imagines success, they must act with the full knowledge that the odds are against them,” Sahlman says.

The very real possibility that your business may not survive is something you need to come to terms with before pursuing entrepreneurship, and you should have a plan for that scenario.

6. Why Do You Want to Start a Business?

As you consider starting a business, continually return to the most basic question: Why?

While only you can answer this question, understanding the relationship between risk and reward can help illuminate your motivations.

It’s the point where the potential of reward—whether that be pursuing your passion, becoming the next big brand, or filling the market’s need—outweighs the fear of risk that your entrepreneurial journey begins.

Ask yourself what you hope to gain from starting a business, and list the risks you anticipate. If the pull of potential rewards outweighs your fear of risks, it’s a good sign you’re ready to be an entrepreneur.

Which HBS Online Entrepreneurship and Innovation Course is Right for You? | Download Your Free Flowchart

Are You Ready To Start A Business?

Asking yourself these questions can shed light on whether starting a business is a path you want to pursue. It can be a lot of work and come with inherent risk, but armed with informed decision-making , an innovative concept, a solid team, and a bit of luck, starting your own business can be an extremely fulfilling experience.

Are you looking to turn an idea into a viable venture? Explore our four-week online course Entrepreneurship Essentials and our other entrepreneurship and innovation courses to learn to speak the language of the startup world. If you aren't sure which course is the right fit, download our free course flowchart to determine which best aligns with your goals.

This post was updated on August 9, 2022. It was originally published on July 14, 2020.

before starting your business plan

About the Author

How to Start a Business From Scratch in 6 Easy Steps

Kody Wirth

10 min. read

Updated April 30, 2024

Did you know that most of the world’s new businesses are bootstrapped ? 

That’s right, most business owners do not launch with loans or outside investment but instead use their personal resources and savings to get up and running. They start from scratch and reinvest in the business as it gains traction.

And you can do the same. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Start with an idea that uses your experience, knowledge, or passion.
  • Determine if there’s a need for your product or service.
  • Create a plan and financial forecasts.
  • Treat it like a side hustle until you get traction.
  • What does it mean to start from scratch?

“Starting a business from scratch” does not mean:

  • Using no money to launch your business.
  • Getting no outside assistance.
  • Inventing a business idea no one has done before.

Starting from scratch is about building a business from the ground up, using personal resources and minimal external financial support. The goal is to establish a sustainable business you control that satisfies a need in the market. 

  • Why start a business from scratch?

Here’s why starting from scratch might be the right approach for you:

  • Risk reduction: Control your initial investment and expenses and scale gradually, allowing you to avoid overspending.
  • Full control: With no outside investment or stakeholders to please, you can shape your business how you see fit.
  • Proves your idea has real customers: Test your concept with customers early to help refine your offering and validate market demand.
  • Fast decision-making: Quickly pivot to meet changing market demands without the red tape of larger organizations.
  • Potentially makes future funding easier: You take the time to prove your business model and profitability before seeking funding. Your track record reduces investor and lender risk and can lead to better funding terms.

Brought to you by

LivePlan Logo

Create a professional business plan

Using ai and step-by-step instructions.

Secure funding

Validate ideas

Build a strategy

  • 6 steps to start a new business from scratch

For this article, we will focus on the steps that take you from a budding business idea to generating sales. 

For additional resources, check out our starting a business guide .

1. Start with an idea

Do some self-reflection and choose an idea you’re passionate about or one that uses your existing skills and experience. 

This will make it far easier to execute and often requires less research, training, and upfront investment to get up and running than an idea completely new to you.

For example, service-based businesses, like accounting or consulting, often need just your time and expertise. If any cash is needed, it should be a small enough amount to fund yourself, giving you full control over the speed at which you grow your business.

As you explore possible ideas, create a one-page business plan to document how it could work. 

It doesn’t have to be an official plan at this stage; just fill in what you can, mark any assumptions, and keep adding details throughout the rest of this process.

What businesses can you typically start from scratch?

While not an exhaustive list, here are a few potential ideas that can be started from scratch:

  • Freelance Writing or Content Creation: Offer writing skills to businesses and online publications.
  • Consulting Services: Share your professional management, marketing, or tech expertise.
  • Handmade Crafts and Art: Sell your unique creations on platforms like Etsy or at local fairs.
  • Tutoring: Offer either in-person or online.
  • Web Design and Development: Build websites for small businesses or individuals.
  • Virtual Assistant: Provide administrative support to businesses remotely.
  • Landscaping and Gardening Services: Turn your love of plants into a business with basic gardening tools.

For more business options and a process to generate ideas, check out our guide on developing good business ideas .

2. Find product-market fit

Landing on an idea is not enough to create a viable business. You need to determine if you have initial product-market fit—that your business satisfies and is demanded by a large enough group of people. 

This involves identifying your potential customers, understanding their motivations and needs, and determining whether they are willing to pay for your product or service. Additionally, spend time researching the market and understand who your competitors are. 

At this stage, you don’t need a fully fleshed-out business. You just need enough of an idea to start speaking to potential customers.  

This is where your one-page plan can be incredibly useful, as it helps you formalize enough information to have the working framework of a business. You can even add notes from your customer interviews to help adapt your plan.

Your goal, in this instance, is to:

  • Hone in on pain points your potential customers have
  • Verify that you can solve them
  • Identify any gaps or issues with your idea
  • (Bonus) Make initial sales 

Keep in mind that you may find none of that. Your solution may not be needed or is missing key components. You may even be targeting the wrong audience and need to change course.

That’s completely okay! Most businesses don’t get things right the first time. Be willing to refine and iterate on your initial idea. Verify what works and what doesn’t, and make the right adjustments to create a sustainable business that customers really want.

3. Examine your resources

While I have this as the third step, you’ll likely be doing this throughout every stage of starting a business.

Start by evaluating your funding sources. Personal savings are ideal as they keep you in full control of your business. If needed, consider asking friends and family for small contributions, as they’ll likely be much more flexible about repayment than traditional lenders.

Next, consider if a partner could benefit your venture. Do they bring complementary skills, share the workload, or offer additional resources? 

The right partner can fill crucial roles – like marketing or operations – allowing you to focus on your core strengths. They may even fill a necessary gap to get customers in the door.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of your network. Reach out to former colleagues, industry peers, and mentors for advice, services, or referrals.

Why you need to know your available resources

Taking stock of your resources is the first step in understanding what is feasible for your business. It helps you determine whether you have enough cash, expertise, and support to meet your customers’ expectations.

For example, let’s say you want to launch an eCommerce website and have enough cash on hand to fulfill orders but require customers to pay for shipping. If you’re competing with similar businesses that offer free shipping, your lack of it could turn customers away.

Similarly, you have a solid understanding of product development and have already gotten pre-orders. But you have no idea how to set up an eCommerce site , keep track of orders, and ensure they actually ship.

In both circumstances, your resources fall short of the needs of your customers. You may have to explore funding ( it doesn’t have to be a loan ) and find a partner with the right skill set to get your site up and running. 

4. Write a business plan and develop financial forecasts

At this point, you need to finalize your business plan and create initial forecasts . 

If you’ve been using the one-page plan throughout the last few steps, then this shouldn’t be a time-consuming process. Your goal at this point is to clearly define:

  • Business Model: Value proposition, customer segments, distribution channels, and revenue streams.
  • Milestones: Set realistic goals (landing your first customer, scaling, etc.) with specific timelines and action steps to track progress.

For your forecasts, start by estimating your:

  • Startup costs and ongoing expenses
  • Revenue in the first year of operation
  • Cash flow — how much money will be moving in and out of your business each month as you collect revenue and pay expenses

These numbers do not have to be perfect. You’ll likely be making educated guesses or using industry estimates. The point is to have something that you believe represents your business. It will help you maintain a healthy cash flow and understand what it will take to be profitable.

Remember, you don’t need to create an overly lengthy plan or complex financial statements. They’re your tools, so focus on usability – they should be flexible and evolve with your business, helping you make informed decisions.

Dedicate time ( at least monthly or quarterly) to reviewing and updating your plan and forecasts as you gather data to ensure your strategy aligns with real-world performance.

5. Protect your business

As a business owner, you must make your business legal and guard against liabilities. To keep things simple, we’ll assume you’re starting as a sole proprietorship for this article.

Check out our full guide to learn more about the specifics of each legal structure .

Necessary legal components for a simple startup:

  • Business Registration: As a sole proprietor, you may not need to register your business with the state government if you do business under your legal name. However, if you operate under a name that’s not yours, you must file for a “Doing Business As” (DBA) name. This is often required to set up a business bank account.
  • Licenses & Permits: Research local requirements for your specific business type. You may need a general business license, professional licenses, or specific permits (e.g., health and safety). Contact your city or county business office for details.
  • Tax Registration: Report business income on your personal tax return. If you plan to hire employees, you’ll need to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. Even without employees, an EIN can protect your personal information and may streamline certain business transactions. Check if you need to register for state sales tax collections.
  • Insurance : Consider general liability insurance for accidents and negligence claims. Get professional liability (errors and omissions) insurance if you offer professional services.
  • Contracts: Use written agreements for business partners and supplier or contractor transactions. This clarifies expectations, prevents disputes, and protects both parties. Contact a lawyer to review or help you write this documentation if needed.

6. Promote and run your business

At this point, you just need to run your business. You don’t need to go all in, either. Launch it as a side hustle until you hit the point where it can become your full-time focus.

Don’t overcomplicate it: Set up a simple website, payment system, and essential operational tools. You want to serve customers immediately and learn from real-world experience.

But unless you locked in pre-orders earlier in this process, you’ll need to market your business to do it. 

Select marketing channels you believe will reach your target customers. Start small — you want to avoid overspending while you determine the right mix of marketing tactics. If you’re unsure where to start, paid social media ads (Facebook and Instagram), email campaigns, and local partnerships can be inexpensive options.

Stick to the budget you created, run small, easily measured marketing tests, and look for a positive return on investment (i.e., bringing in more revenue from sales than you spent on advertising). 

Only consider increasing spending after you start bringing in customers.

  • Continue to review and revise

You are on your way to running a sustainable business and may even have your first customers already! 

Just don’t get too far ahead of yourself. You’re still proving that there is traction that can be repeated with multiple customers. 

As you operate, review your plan and forecasts. Pay close attention to your cash flow and be willing to pivot if things aren’t working. 

That’s the benefit of starting from scratch: You are in full control and can scale and spend at a pace that improves your chances of success.

If you haven’t yet, download a free one-page business plan template to document your idea. The earlier you begin developing the plan, the more useful it will be throughout the startup process.

See why 1.2 million entrepreneurs have written their business plans with LivePlan

Content Author: Kody Wirth

Kody Wirth is a content writer and SEO specialist for Palo Alto Software—the creator's of Bplans and LivePlan. He has 3+ years experience covering small business topics and runs a part-time content writing service in his spare time.

Grow 30% faster with the right business plan. Create your plan with LivePlan.

Table of Contents

Related Articles

before starting your business plan

11 Min. Read

7 Steps to Successfully Start a Business With No Money

before starting your business plan

2 Min. Read

What to Do Before Starting a Business

before starting your business plan

5 Min. Read

How to Start a Side Hustle

before starting your business plan

8 Min. Read

How Much Does it Cost to Start a Business?

The Bplans Newsletter

The Bplans Weekly

Subscribe now for weekly advice and free downloadable resources to help start and grow your business.

We care about your privacy. See our privacy policy .

Garrett's Bike Shop

The quickest way to turn a business idea into a business plan

Fill-in-the-blanks and automatic financials make it easy.

No thanks, I prefer writing 40-page documents.

LivePlan pitch example

Discover the world’s #1 plan building software

before starting your business plan

Small Business Resources is now the Center for Business Empowerment.

Suggested Keywords

Center for Business Empowerment

How to write an effective business plan in 11 steps (with workbook)

February 02, 2023 | 14 minute read

Writing a business plan is a powerful way to position your small business for success as you set out to meet your goals. Landmark studies suggest that business founders who write one are 16% more likely to build viable businesses than those who don’t and that entrepreneurs focused on high growth are 7% more likely to have written a business plan. 1 Even better, other research shows that owners who complete business plans are twice as likely to grow their business successfully or obtain capital compared with those who don’t. 2

The best time to write a business plan is typically after you have vetted and researched your business idea. (See How to start a business in 15 steps. ) If conditions change later, you can rewrite the plan, much like how your GPS reroutes you if there is traffic ahead. When you update your plan regularly, everyone on your team, including outside stakeholders such as investors, will know where you are headed.

What is a business plan?

Typically 15-20 pages long, a business plan is a document that explains what your business does, what you want to achieve in the business and the strategy you plan to use to get there. It details the opportunities you are going after, what resources you will need to achieve your goals and how you will define success.

Why are business plans important?

Business plans help you think through barriers and discover opportunities you may have recognized subconsciously but have not yet articulated. A business plan can also help you to attract potential lenders, investors and partners by providing them with evidence that your business has all of the ingredients necessary for success.

What questions should a business plan answer?

Your business plan should explain how your business will grow and succeed. A great plan will provide detailed answers to questions that a banker or investor will have before putting money into the business, such as:

  • What products or services do you provide?
  • Who is your target customer?
  • What are the benefits of your product and service for customers?
  • How much will you charge?
  • What is the size of the market?
  • What are your marketing plans?
  • How much competition does the business face in penetrating that market?
  • How much experience does the management team have in running businesses like it?
  • How do you plan to measure success?
  • What do you expect the business’s revenue, costs and profit to be for the first few years?
  • How much will it cost to achieve the goals stated in the business plan?
  • What is the long-term growth potential of the business? Is the business scalable?
  • How will you enable investors to reap the rewards of backing the business? Do you plan to sell the business to a bigger company eventually or take it public as your “exit strategy”?

How to write a business plan in 11 steps

This step-by-step outline will make it easier to write an effective business plan, even if you’re managing the day-to-day demands of starting a new business. Creating a table of contents that lists key sections of the plan with page numbers will make it easy for readers to flip to the sections that interest them most.

  • Use our editable workbook to capture notes and organize your thoughts as you review these critical steps. Note: To avoid losing your work, please remember to save this PDF to your desktop before you begin.

1. Executive summary

The executive summary is your opportunity to make a great first impression on investors and bankers. It should be just as engaging as the enthusiastic elevator pitch you might give if you bumped into a potential backer in an elevator.

In three to five paragraphs, you’ll want to explain what your business does, why it will succeed and where it will be in five years. The executive summary should include short descriptions of the following:

  • Business concept. What will your business do?
  • Goals and vision. What do you expect the business to achieve, both financially and for other key stakeholders, such as the community?
  • Product or service. What does your product or service do — and how is it different from those of competitors?
  • Target market. Who do you expect to buy your product or service?
  • Marketing strategy. How will you tell people about your product or service?
  • Current revenue and profits. If your business is pre-revenue, offer sales projections.
  • Projected revenue and profits. Provide a realistic look at the next year, as well as the next three years, ideally.
  • Financial resources needed. How much money do you need to borrow or raise to fund your plan?
  • Management team. Who are the company’s leaders and what relevant experience will they contribute?

2. Business overview

Here is where you provide a brief history of the business and describe the product(s) or service(s) it offers. Make sure you describe the problem you are attempting to solve, for whom you will solve it (your customers) and how you will solve it. Be sure to describe your business model (such as direct-to-consumer sales through an online store) so readers can envision how you will make sales. Also mention your business structure (such as a sole proprietorship , general partnership, limited partnership or corporation) and why it is advantageous for the business. And be sure to provide context on the state of your industry and where your business will fit into it.

3. Business goals and vision

Explain what you hope to achieve in the business (your vision) as well as its mission and value proposition. Most founders judge success by the size to which they grow the business using measures such as revenue or number of employees. Your goals may not be solely financial. You may also wish to provide jobs or solve a societal problem. If that’s the case, mention those goals as well.

If you are seeking outside funding, explain why you need the money, how you will put it to work to grow the business and how you expect to achieve the goals you have set for the business. Also explain your exit strategy—that is, how you would enable investors to cash out, whether that means selling the business or taking it public.

4. Management and organization

Many investors say they bet on the team behind a business more than the business idea, trusting that talented and experienced people will be capable of bringing sound business concepts to life. With that in mind, make sure to provide short bios of the key members of your management team (including yourself) that emphasize the relevant experience each individual brings, along with their special talents and industry recognition. Many business plans include headshots of the management team with the bios.

Also describe more about how your organization will be structured. Your company may be a sole proprietorship, a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation in one or more states.

If you will need to hire people for specific roles, this is the place to mention those plans. And if you will rely on outside consultants for certain roles — such as an outsourced CFO — be sure to make a note of it here. Outside backers want to know if you’ve anticipated the staffing you need.

5. Service or product line

A business will only succeed if it sells something people want or need to buy. As you describe the products or services you will offer, make sure to explain what benefits they will provide to your target customers, how they will differ from competing offerings and what the buying cycle will likely be so it is clear that you can actually sell what you are offering. If you have plans to protect your intellectual property through a copyright or patent filing, be sure to mention that. Also explain any research and development work that is underway to show investors the potential for additional revenue streams.

6. Market/industry analysis

Anyone interested in providing financial backing to your business will want to know how big your company can potentially grow so they have an idea of what kind of returns they can expect. In this section, you’ll be able to convey that by explaining to whom you will be selling and how much opportunity there is to reach them. Key details to include are market size; a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis ; a competitive analysis; and customer segmentation. Make it clear how you developed any projections you’ve made by citing interviews or research.

Also describe the current state of the industry. Where is there room for improvement? Are most companies using antiquated processes and technology? If your business is a local one, what is the market in your area like? Do most of the restaurants where you plan to open your café serve mediocre food? What will you do better?

In this section, also list competitors, including their names, websites and social media handles. Describe each source of competition and how your business will address it.

7. Sales and marketing

Explain how you will spread the word to potential customers about what you sell. Will you be using paid online search advertising, social media promotions, traditional direct mail, print advertising in local publications, sponsorship of a local radio or TV show, your own YouTube content or some other method entirely? List all of the methods you will use.

Make sure readers know exactly what the path to a sale will be and why that approach will resonate with customers in your ideal target markets as well as existing customer segments. If you have already begun using the methods you’ve outlined, include data on the results so readers know whether they have been effective.

8. Financials

In a new business, you may not have any past financial data or financial statements to include, but that doesn’t mean you have nothing to share. Preparing a budget and financial plan will help show investors or bankers that you have developed a clear understanding of the financial aspects of running your business. (The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has prepared a guide you can use; SCORE , a nonprofit organization that partners with the SBA, offers a financial projections template to help you look ahead.) For an existing business, you will want to include income statements, profit and loss statements, cash flow statements and balance sheets, ideally going back three years.

Make a list of the specific steps you plan to take to achieve the financial results you have outlined. The steps are generally the most detailed for the first year, given that you may need to revise your plan later as you gather feedback from the marketplace.

Include interactive spreadsheets that contain a detailed financial analysis showing how much it costs your business to produce the goods and services you provide, the profits you will generate, any planned investments and the taxes you will pay. See our startup costs calculator to get started.

9. Financial projections

Creating a detailed sales forecast can help you get outside backers excited about supporting you. A sales forecast is typically a table or simple line graph that shows the projected sales of the company over time with monthly or quarterly details for the next 12 months and a broader projection as much as five years into the future. If you haven’t yet launched the company, turn to your market research to develop estimates. For more information, see “ How to create a sales forecast for your small business. ”

10. Funding request

If you are seeking outside financing such as a loan or equity investment, your potential backers will want to know how much money you need and how you will spend it. Describe the amount you are trying to raise, how you arrived at that number and what type of funding you are seeking (such as debt, equity or a combination of both). If you are contributing some of your own funds, it is worth noting this, as it shows that you have skin in the game.

11. Appendix

This should include any information and supporting documents that will help investors and bankers gain a greater understanding of the potential of your business. Depending on your industry, you might include local permits, licenses, deeds and other legal documents; professional certifications and licenses; media clips; information on patents and other intellectual property; key customer contracts and purchase orders; and other relevant documents.

Some business owners find it helpful to develop a list of key concepts, such as the names of the company’s products and industry terms. This can be helpful if you do business in an industry that may not be familiar to the readers of the business plan.

Tips for creating an effective business plan

Use clear, simple language. It’ll be easier to win people over if your plan is easy to read. Steer clear of industry jargon, and if you must use any phrases the average adult won’t know, be sure to define them.

Emphasize what makes your business unique. Investors and bankers want to know how you will solve a problem or gap in the marketplace differently from anyone else. Make sure you’re conveying your differentiating factors.

Nail the details. An ideal business plan will be detailed and accurate. Make sure that any financial projections you make are realistic and grounded in solid market research. (If you need help in making your calculations, you can get free advice at SCORE.) Seasoned bankers and investors will quickly spot numbers that are overly optimistic.

Take time to polish it. Your final version of the plan should be neat and professional with an attractive layout and copy that has been carefully proofread.

Include professional photos. High-quality shots of your product or place of business can help make it clear why your business stands out.

Updating an existing business plan

Some business owners in rapidly growing businesses update their business plan quarterly. Others do so every six months or every year. When you update your plan make sure you consider these three things:

  • Are your goals still current? As you’ve tested your concept, your goals may have changed. The plan should reflect this.
  • Have you revised any strategies in response to feedback from the marketplace? You may have found that your offerings resonated with a different customer segment than you expected or that your advertising plan didn’t work and you need to try a different approach. Given that investors will want to see a marketing and advertising plan that works, keeping this section current will ensure you are always ready to meet with one who shows interest.
  • Have your staffing needs changed? If you set ambitious goals, you may need help from team members or outside consultants you did not anticipate when you first started the business. Take stock now so you can plan accordingly.

Final thoughts

Most business owners don’t follow their business plans exactly. But writing one will get you off to a much better start than simply opening your doors and hoping for the best, and it will be easier to analyze any aspects of your business that aren’t working later so you can course-correct. Ultimately, it may be one of the best investments you can make in the future of your business.

Business plan FAQs

What are common mistakes when writing a business plan.

The biggest mistake you can make when writing a business plan is creating one before the idea has been properly researched and tested. Not every idea is meant to become a business. Other common mistakes include:

  • Not describing your management team in a way that is appealing to investors. Simply cutting and pasting someone’s professional bio into the management section won’t do the trick. You’ll want to highlight the credentials of each team member in a way that is relevant to this business.
  • Failing to include financial projections — or including overly optimistic ones. Investors look at a lot of business plans and can tell quickly whether your numbers are accurate or pie in the sky. Have a good small business accountant review your numbers to make sure they are realistic.
  • Lack of a clear exit strategy for investors. Investors may want the option to cash out eventually and would want to know how they can go about doing that.
  • Slapdash presentation. Make sure to fact-check any industry statistics you cite and that any charts, graphs or images are carefully prepared and easy to read.

What are the different types of business plans?

There are a variety of styles of business plans. Here are three major types:

Traditional business plan. This is a formal document for pitching to investors based on the outline in this article. If your business is a complicated one, the plan may exceed the typical length and stretch to as many as 50 pages.

One-page business plan. This is a simplified version of a formal business plan designed to fit on one page. Typically, each section will be described in bullet points or in a chart format rather than in the narrative style of an executive summary. It can be helpful as a summary document to give to investors — or for internal use. Another variation on the one-page theme is the business model canvas .

Lean plan. This methodology for creating a business plan is ideal for a business that is evolving quickly. It is designed in a way that makes it easy to update on a regular basis. Lean business plans are usually about one page long. The SBA has provided an example of what this type of plan includes on its website.

Is the business plan for a nonprofit different from the plan for other business types?

Many elements of a business plan for a nonprofit are similar to those of a for-profit business. However, because the goal of a nonprofit is achieving its mission — rather than turning a profit — the business plan should emphasize its specific goals on that front and how it will achieve them. Many nonprofits set key performance indicators (KPIs) — numbers that they track to show they are moving the needle on their goals.

Nonprofits will generally emphasize their fundraising strategies in their business plans rather than sales strategies. The funds they raise are the lifeblood of the programs they run.

What is the difference between a business plan, a strategic plan and a marketing plan?

A strategic plan is different from the type of business plan you’ve read about here in that it emphasizes the long-term goals of the business and how your business will achieve them over the long run. A strong business plan can function as both a business plan and a strategic plan.

A marketing plan is different from a business plan in that it is focused on four main areas of the business: product (what you are selling and how you will differentiate it), price (how much your products or services will cost and why), promotion (how you will get your ideal customer to notice and buy what you are selling) and place (where you will sell your products). A thorough business plan may cover these topics, doing double duty as both a business plan and a marketing plan.

Explore more

Editable business plan workbook

before starting your business plan

Starting a new business

1 . Francis J. Green and Christian Hopp. “Research: Writing a Business Plan Makes Your Startup More Likely to Succeed.” HBR. July 14, 2017. Available online at https://hbr.org/2017/07/research-writing-a-business-plan-makes-your-startup-more-likely-to-succeed.

2 . CorpNet, “The Startup Business Plan: Why It’s Important and How You Can Create One,” June 29, 2022.

Important Disclosures and Information

Bank of America, Merrill, their affiliates and advisors do not provide legal, tax or accounting advice. Consult your own legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions. Any informational materials provided are for your discussion or review purposes only. The content on the Center for Business Empowerment (including, without limitations, third party and any Bank of America content) is provided “as is” and carries no express or implied warranties, or promise or guaranty of success. Bank of America does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, completeness, usefulness, non-infringement of intellectual property rights, or quality of any content, regardless of who originates that content, and disclaims the same to the extent allowable by law. All third party trademarks, service marks, trade names and logos referenced in this material are the property of their respective owners. Bank of America does not deliver and is not responsible for the products, services or performance of any third party.

Not all materials on the Center for Business Empowerment will be available in Spanish.

Certain links may direct you away from Bank of America to unaffiliated sites. Bank of America has not been involved in the preparation of the content supplied at unaffiliated sites and does not guarantee or assume any responsibility for their content. When you visit these sites, you are agreeing to all of their terms of use, including their privacy and security policies.

Credit cards, credit lines and loans are subject to credit approval and creditworthiness. Some restrictions may apply.

Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (also referred to as “MLPF&S" or “Merrill") makes available certain investment products sponsored, managed, distributed or provided by companies that are affiliates of Bank of America Corporation (“BofA Corp."). MLPF&S is a registered broker-dealer, registered investment adviser,  Member SIPC , and a wholly owned subsidiary of BofA Corp.

Banking products are provided by Bank of America, N.A., and affiliated banks, Members FDIC, and wholly owned subsidiaries of BofA Corp.

“Bank of America” and “BofA Securities” are the marketing names used by the Global Banking and Global Markets division of Bank of America Corporation. Lending, derivatives, other commercial banking activities, and trading in certain financial instruments are performed globally by banking affiliates of Bank of America Corporation, including Bank of America, N.A., Member FDIC. Trading in securities and financial instruments, and strategic advisory, and other investment banking activities, are performed globally by investment banking affiliates of Bank of America Corporation (“Investment Banking Affiliates”), including, in the United States, BofA Securities, Inc., which is a registered broker-dealer and Member of  SIPC , and, in other jurisdictions, by locally registered entities. BofA Securities, Inc. is a registered futures commission merchant with the CFTC and a member of the NFA.

Investment products:

  • Starting a Business
  • Growing a Business
  • Small Business Guide
  • Business News
  • Science & Technology
  • Money & Finance
  • For Subscribers
  • Write for Entrepreneur
  • Entrepreneur Store
  • United States
  • Asia Pacific
  • Middle East
  • South Africa

Copyright © 2024 Entrepreneur Media, LLC All rights reserved. Entrepreneur® and its related marks are registered trademarks of Entrepreneur Media LLC

Most People Have No Business Starting a Business. Here's What to Consider Before You Become an Entrepreneur You need to find the right business opportunity at the right time and take the right steps to beat the odds.

By Cynthia Kay • Apr 22, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Small businesses could significantly improve their odds by starting the right business at the right time and taking the right steps.
  • Don't rush the following steps. They set the foundation for beating the odds and growing a great business.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There is no such thing as the perfect time to start a business . I know. Growing up in a family business, I always thought I would love to own my own business, but I was waiting for the perfect time. Then, I got fired from my job in broadcasting and had to decide what to do. Was I ready to take on being a business owner? Did I have enough experience? Where would the start-up funding come from? Did I want to own one, or was I just enamored with the American dream of being a business owner?

The hard truth is that most people have no business starting a business because they have unrealistic expectations and have not done the hard work to ensure its success. The statistics bear that out. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics , "20% of new businesses fail during the first two years, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first ten years."

I have been in business for more than 35 years, which puts me in the category of only 25% of the companies that make it 15 years or more. Am I clever or lucky? Or a little of both? I believe that small businesses could significantly improve their odds by starting the right business at the right time and taking the right steps.

Related: You Won't Be a Successful Entrepreneur Until You Adopt These 3 Habits

The right business

Ideally, there are two things to consider. First, the type of business. The right business for one person is very different than the right business for another. In my case, broadcasting experience was a great foundation for starting a media production company. I had worked for several television stations in a variety of roles, so I understood both the production aspects, what might be compared to operations in other businesses, and the financial considerations.

When you start a business in an industry where you know you have an edge , you see the opportunities and the pitfalls. You can become a recognized leader faster than someone who is just getting started. You also may have recognition or awards that give you instant credibility. In my case, I have won over thirty broadcast awards, indicating that I was a seasoned professional.

One side note: I know people who have been very successful in starting businesses without a specific background in the product or service. These are, however, well-educated businesspeople who can successfully lead an operation and have found others with the skills and understanding of the industry. Being a franchisee is another way to get started because the franchise owner has put the products, systems and training in place to jumpstart ownership.

The second thing to consider is the business owner's passion and commitment level. Even knowledgeable and prepared individuals must work hard during the first few years to set the foundation. Business owners know that means missing family events, long hours, and plowing money back into the operation instead of putting it in their pockets. If you have a passion for business, it is easy to stick it out. If you don't, resentment builds, and the business suffers.

Related: Passion, Freedom, Impact: The 3 Ingredients of Business Success

The right time

You might think that timing is about the age at which you start a business. It is not. Entrepreneurs start businesses at all ages. Over the years, we have seen many young people and their parents on Shark Tank trying to find an investor for their businesses. One might argue that the business is really the parent's idea, but not always.

At the other end of the scale, there are encore entrepreneurs. These are successful business owners who sold their businesses and could not sit still or who left corporate America and struck out on their own late in life. Of course, many of those who are starting businesses are millennials and Gen Zers. The right time is at any age.

What's more important is whether or not the product or service is ready for the market and in demand. Media production as an industry has been consistently in demand since I started but was even more popular during and after the pandemic as people needed to communicate but did not want to travel or meet in person. Many side hustles have soared in popularity, and there is still room for new entities. But others have crowded fields. It's important to look at the competition and see how your offer measures up. Is it different, a better value, or more convenient?

One last thing to consider: Sometimes, you are so far ahead of the market that you need to do more than just sell; you need to educate and create demand. Think about it. Things like computers, meatless burgers and even kitty litter changed or created an entirely new industry. Timing here is tricky. Get in too early, and it takes huge resources to get noticed. Too late, and you can't catch up.

Related: Can You Turn Your Side Hustle Into a Business

The right steps

Benjamin Franklin said it best, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." To be successful, you need to take the right planning steps. You need to do the tedious work of creating a business plan. This is the roadmap for how to start, operate and grow the business. There are lots of different templates and resources to create a plan, whether you are starting a traditional business or a lean start-up. Just pick one that meets your needs. You also must find and surround yourself with a great team of advisors, including a business attorney, financial professional, insurance and risk management team and more.

Don't rush these steps. They set the foundation for beating the odds and growing a great business.

Related: 3 Advisors Every Business Owner Needs

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

A small business leader for over 35 years.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick Red Arrow

  • James Clear Explains Why the 'Two Minute Rule' Is the Key to Long-Term Habit Building
  • They Designed One Simple Product With a 'Focus on Human Health' — and Made $40 Million Last Year
  • Lock Younger Americans Don't Necessarily Want to Retire in Florida — and the 2 Affordable States at the Top of Their List Might Surprise You
  • I Tried Airchat , the Hottest New Social Media App in Silicon Valley — Here's How It Works
  • Lock This Side Hustle Is Helping Farmers Earn Up to $60,000 a Year While Connecting Outdoor Lovers With Untouched Wilderness
  • Are Franchises in the Clear After the Expanded Joint Employer Rule Was Struck Down? Industry Experts Answer 2 Critical Questions About What's Next.

Most Popular Red Arrow

These $1 bills could be worth $150,000 — here's how to check if one is in your wallet right now.

There are an estimated six million of these erroneous bills in circulation.

When This Entrepreneur Couldn't Decide What to Name His Business, He Started a $2,000-a-Month Side Hustle to Help — Now It Earns Over $10 Million a Year

Darpan Munjal, founder and CEO of AI-powered startup ecosystem Atom, offered $50 to anyone who could help with the creativity block.

Domino's Pizza Is Paying Customers Back When They Tip Their Delivery Drivers

The chain rolled out its new "You Tip, We Tip" initiative on Monday.

Launching a New Product? You'll Struggle If You Don't Keep These 4 Positioning Lessons in Mind.

Here are four important positioning lessons from the "world's cheapest car."

Here's Why Reddit Turned Down an Acquisition Offer From Google in Its Early Days, According to Cofounder Alexis Ohanian

Ohanian and his Reddit co-founder, Steve Huffman, were recent college graduates at the time of the offer.

Why Podcasting Can Now Boost Your Bottom Line More than Ever

This format boasts bigger-than-ever audience size and listenership advertiser enthusiasm, and now is the time to take advantage.

Successfully copied link




Exploring the world of money and finance

before starting your business plan

50 Questions to Ask Before Starting a New Business

' src=

Starting a business is an inherently risky venture. Getting your business off the ground requires a plan, capital, and a whole lot of hard work. From coming up with a great business idea to creating the proper business structure to execute this idea; from raising the money to fund startup costs to conducting the market research to justify your company’s raison d’etre, there are tons of steps before you can even think about opening the doors (physical or virtual) to your customers.

If you’re looking for a quick pathway from idea to implementation, we strongly recommend jumping from here to our article highlighting the 10 Steps to Starting a Business.

On the other hand, if you’re still in the early planning stages, you’ve come to the right place. The best way to really get the ball rolling is to start by asking yourself all the tough questions first. While you may not have an exact answer for each of these questions, this collection of inquiries is a great way to get you thinking about everything–big and small–that goes into launching your own business.

50 Questions To Help You Start a Successful Business

There’s obviously a lot that goes into getting a business off the ground. So how can you be sure you’ve thought of everything first? Well, you can’t. Rule number one–be prepared for the unexpected as a business owner. That said, you can take every possible step to reduce the risk of the unexpected. We’ve devised 50 critical questions to help you do exactly that. Because there’s a lot here, we’ve divided these questions into specific areas. Read on to find out which questions you should be asking about your Business Idea and Structure, the Competition and Customers shaping the marketplace, the Financial and Organizational components you’ll need to address to build your business, and finally, the Brand that you’ll be working to establish.

The Business Idea

1. What problem are you solving?

This is the very first question you need to ask yourself, because it will ultimately tell you whether or not there’s an actual need for the product or service you plan to market. Where did your business idea come from? Have you observed an unsatisfied demand for a certain product or service, or the need for innovation or improvement in the way a product or service is delivered? Perhaps you’ve found a way to offer quality with greater affordability, or a faster delivery system, or simply with a more customer friendly approach than the industry standard. Whatever it is that roots your business idea, be sure it’s something that addresses an actual problem with a viable solution. Moreover, be sure that the solution you’re offering is also profitable. Indeed, your goal here is to identify the need for your idea as well as the ability of this idea to generate profit.

2. Do you have a business plan?

Of course, it’s one thing to say that you have a great idea that can render a profit. It’s another thing to show it. That’s what your business plan is for. This is your chance to explain your idea in its entirety–to conduct a SWOT (Strengths; Weaknesses; Opportunities; Threats) analysis; to elaborate on the key features of the broader marketplace including the competition and the customers; to present financial forecasts that demonstrate the idea’s profitability; and more. That said, there aren’t necessarily any formal rules on what must be in a business plan. As an article from the Small Business Administration (SBA) notes, “A business plan is a written tool about your business that projects 3-5 years ahead and outlines the path your business intends to take to make money and grow revenue. Think of it as a living project for your business, and not as a one-time document. Break it down into mini-plans – one for sales and marketing, one for pricing, one for operations, and so on.” Ultimately, this will be a valuable document for securing bank loans, investor funding, or just for giving yourself a set of meaningful benchmarks to pursue. Developed properly, your business plan should give you the chance to think objectively about the various moving pieces that must ultimately come together to transform your idea into a reality.

3. What is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?

What is the value that you will offer your customers? Is there really a demand for this value, and can you actually deliver it? And can you deliver that value in a way that betters the current offerings in the marketplace? The key behind a great idea is that it will likely resonate with prospective customers either because it provides something heretofore unseen in the marketplace, because it significantly improves upon something in the marketplace, because it improves the accessibility of something in the marketplace for which there is great demand, or because it otherwise represents a distinct value to the customer that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Make sure you fully understand what makes your product or service offering unique, and just as importantly, why these unique properties represent a chance for profitability.

4. Is there a proof of concept for your idea?

So you’ve established the unique value proposition implied by your idea. But how can you be sure that it’s something people will actually pay for? That’s where proof of concept comes in. According to the definition provided by the Gartner Glossary of business terms, a proof of concept “is a demonstration of a product, service or solution in a sales context. A POC should demonstrate that the product or concept will fulfill customer requirements while also providing a compelling business case for adoption.” In other words, is there some precedent to prove that people will pay for what you’re offering? While your offering may be a unique proposition, is there a track record of success for similar product or service offerings? Have you yourself experienced even anecdotal success selling others on your product or service? And is that anecdotal success compelling enough to justify the launching of an entire business? In short, you’re looking to find the perfect balance between something that is at once novel and proven–a unique value spin on a product or service with a proven track record.

5. Have you thought of a good business name?

Believe it or not, this is one of the toughest parts of the process. Coming up with the perfect name can be genuinely challenging. And that makes sense. After all, a lot rests on a business name. The right name effectively describes what your business does, conveys the identity of your business, and gives your target customers something memorable to latch onto. While an imperfect name may not doom your business idea to failure, the perfect name could be a real game changer in your pursuit of success. Don’t rush this stage. Take the time to brainstorm ideas, run them by people you know and trust, and don’t settle for something that doesn’t feel right. Once you come up with the right business name, you can move on to the clerical steps like registration, licensing, and tax filing.

6. Can you explain your business idea in just a few words?

There’s an old adage that says, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” The quote is sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein, though historians have generally disputed this, especially in light of the actual complexity of his scientific theories. To wit, it may well have been coined by an unknown business magnate, because it applies brilliantly to the notion of a business startup. You need to be able to explain your business idea in as little as 30 seconds–the length of the so-called elevator pitch. This is important, because that’s about how long the attention span is of the average person. The attention span may be even shorter for the average venture capitalist. If you’re looking to excite others about your idea, perhaps even enough to net a few worthy investors, you need to be able to convey your business idea in a way that is at once compelling, clear and concise.

The Business Structure

7. What will be the legal structure of your business?

Now is the time to determine the best legal structure for your business based on the scale of your operation, the legal liabilities specific to your sector, and the nature of your product or service. Will your business be a sole proprietorship, a limited liability company, a partnership, or a corporation? Is your business intended as a non-profit entity, a religious organization seeking tax exempt status, or a traditional brick and mortar business in the retail space? Each of these entity types will come with its own specific rules for registration, licensing, tax status, operational regulations, and more. It’s up to you to determine which of these models makes the most sense for your product or service. If you’re not sure, this is a great time to consult a business attorney. You’ll want to be sure you get this step right as so many subsequent steps will hinge on making the right call here.

8. Do you need to register your business? 

The answer to this question may be different for every aspiring business owner and will depend on factors like your locality, the nature of your business, and the intended scale of your operation. In most cases, registration will be pretty straightforward, but it may not always be necessary. As an article from the Small Business Administration (SBA) notes, “For most small businesses, registering your business is as simple as registering your business name with state and local governments. In some cases, you don’t need to register at all. If you conduct business as yourself using your legal name, you won’t need to register anywhere. But remember, if you don’t register your business, you could miss out on personal liability protection, legal benefits, and tax benefits.” As long as you’re speaking with a lawyer about the structure of your business, you’ll probably want to inquire about these protections and benefits. Determine whether or not it makes sense to register your business. But bear in mind that you’ll probably need to register your business in order to respond in the affirmative to the next question.

9. Do you have an Employer Identification Number (EIN)?

This is important because you’ll need this number for just about everything else that comes with starting a business. Your EIN is kind of like a social security number, but for your business. This is what the U.S. government uses to identify your business as an official taxpaying entity. As an article from the Small Business Administration notes, “Your Employer Identification Number (EIN) is your federal tax ID. You need it to pay federal taxes, hire employees, open a bank account, and apply for business licenses and permits. It’s free to apply for an EIN, and you should do it right after you register your business.” The SBA explains that you’ll need an EIN to do everything from operating as a corporation to establishing a partnership; from paying employees to filing tax returns for employment; from withholding income tax from employees to overseeing certain tax-deferred pension plans. In other words, getting an EIN should be among your first steps. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to get an EIN directly through the IRS EIN assistance portal .

10. Do you have a general business license? No matter what kind of business you plan to operate, you are required to have a business license. In the vast majority of cases, a General Business License will suffice, and this will usually be issued by your locality. According to an article from Investopedia, “ Any business, including home-based businesses, must obtain a local city or county business license. This is a basic license that allows the holder to engage in business activities within the local jurisdiction. If your city or county doesn’t have a specific business licensing department, you can obtain information on obtaining a basic business license at your local tax office.”

11. Does your business model require a special sales tax license?

Depending on where you plan to operate, this license may already be included as part of the general business license. But this is not always the case. And where it isn’t the case, you are legally liable for ensuring that you do carry this additional licensing. According to the article from Investopedia “A sales tax license may be part of the general business license in some areas. But a separate sales tax license is required in other areas in addition to a local business license. Not sure if you need a separate tax license? The local department from which you obtain a business license can tell you if you must obtain a separate sales tax license and where to get it at either the state or local level. Make sure that you have this covered before you open your business.” Indeed, failure to do so could actually make you criminally liable.

12. Do you require special permits to conduct your business?

However you slice it, you will need to get this license. However, there is also specialized permitting that you may need to get. This will largely depend on the nature of your business. Permits, as per their name, give you permission to engage in specific business activities within your locality, and will usually be granted by a professional association specific to your sector. For instance, say the article from Investopedia, “ Environmental licenses or health department permits are less common for home-based businesses. These documents are most generally required for businesses that engage in the wholesale or retail sale of food and beverage products. In any event, it’s easy enough to check with state environmental protection agencies or local health departments to find out if your business requires any type of environmental inspection or permit.”

13. Do you need specialized insurance?

The answer to this question will depend on the nature of your business, as well as the organization, resources, and personnel involved in this business. If you are a sole proprietorship selling a creative service like web design or digital marketing, you won’t likely require any special insurance coverage to operate out of your home office space. On the other hand, if you plan to rent or purchase property for the operation of your business, you plan to hire employees, you expect to operate vehicles or machinery in the production or delivery of your products or services, or you are manufacturing a retail item that will find its way into the homes of consumers, you may need to carry certain specialized insurance policies. This may include commercial property insurance, professional liability insurance, or general liability insurance. Some small business owners will choose to carry a generalized business insurance simply in order to mitigate unforeseen risks and legal entanglements. If you’re not sure which types of insurance are recommended or required in your sector, consult a business attorney.

14. Are there zoning requirements you need to be aware of?

Before you start a business in your locality, make sure you’re aware of any practical legal limitations on what you can and can’t do. If you’re planning to rent or purchase a property, be sure you understand all the zoning rules in your municipality and county. Will your business objectives be in compliance with these rules? Are there additional steps you’ll need to take, and expenses you’ll need to sustain, in order to achieve compliance? You may need to ask these same questions if you plan to run your business out of your own home. Be sure that you are aware of any rules or regulations imposed by your township or country regarding the operation of certain business types from spaces that are zoned as residential properties.

15. Does your Home Owners Association (HOA) have any rules about operating a home business?`

Speaking of operating a business out of your own home, many communities and developments are overseen by organizations called Home Owners Associations (HOA). HOAs often have pretty far reaching rules about how you can and can’t use your residential space. Some may even have restrictions on operating a business out of your home. This is something you’ll want to be aware of before you attempt to launch a business from your home office or backyard workshop. If your HOA forbids this type of commercial activity, you may be required to rent or purchase an alternative space for the operation of your business. Naturally, this means you’ll need to factor this cost into your operating expenses.

The Competition

16. Who are the leading competitors in the space you’re entering?

Find out everything you can about the businesses that are leading in your space. Which companies are dominating in sales and market share? Which companies have succeeded in establishing a sturdy reputation in the space, and which entrants have made the biggest splash as innovators? In addition to finding out who these competitors are, you should know how each one has built a successful business in the space you plan to enter. An article from Business News Daily advises exploring all aspects of your competitors’ business to achieve a comprehensive understanding of what has allowed them to succeed. According to Business News Daily, “these aspects could be pricing, distribution and delivery strategies, market share, new products or services coming to market, who their long-standing, highest-spending customers are, the quality of after-sales support, and which sales and marketing channels they use.”

17. Is there room for a new entrant?

Now that you understand a bit more about the competition, you should be in a better position to honestly assess this question. How much space is there in the market for a new entrant? Are you facing down a field in which the competition is endowed with billions of dollars in operating capital? Is the field saturated with other startup businesses looking to build their own reputations as trailblazers? (Cryptocurrency industry–I’m looking in your direction.) As you prepare to make your own splash in a selected marketplace, do some honest soul searching about how much space there really is for your idea in this sector. If you find a marketplace that is deeply tilted toward just a few monopolistic entities, or one that is absolutely teeming with would-be innovators, you may want to turn your attention elsewhere.

18. Are you looking to innovate in your field?

Speaking of innovators, are you among them? This ties directly into the question of your Unique Sales Proposition (USP). Are you preparing to offer a product that significantly enhances what has previously been available in the marketplace? Is your service offering a meaningful step forward from previous service offerings in the same space? If you are offering customers something that is truly a distinctive, first-of-its-kind purchasing opportunity, you may be in a position to transform the marketplace, and place yourself at the forefront of this transformation. Before you enter the field, determine whether you plan to work within the parameters already established by those who came before you or whether you plan to disrupt the industry with exciting new innovations.

19. How will you differentiate your business offering from the competition?

Of course, innovation isn’t the only way to differentiate your offering from others in the marketplace. You can find ways to make your products and services more affordable, more accessible, more efficient, or more functional. Even incremental improvements in what’s available could set your company apart. An article from Business News Daily asks, “Could you improve the quality of your products or services by adding or amending a feature, lowering the price to be more affordable or improving after-sales support? Could you achieve a better ROI on your marketing budget by investing in a more capable CRM for better lead management?” Determine how you will set yourself apart, both from those who have established themselves as leaders in the space, and from those who are going head to head with you at the startup tier.

20. Is there anybody else who can do what you plan to do?

Do you have an ace in the hole–something that your business will do or offer that nobody else can replicate? Have you invented an exciting proprietary technology, or created an unparalleled synergy with another business partner, or is your team simply loaded with the type of intellect and talent that other companies can’t match? Identify the greatest strengths that your business has to offer, whether these are features embodied in your personnel, your products, your structure, or all of the above. Once you know what these strengths are, do everything you can to magnify them. These strengths will be your greatest selling point when it comes to beating the competition.

21. How has this industry or space changed in the last several years? Where is it going in the future?

Beyond just studying the current players in your business, you should have a strong sense of the history of your space. What are the trends and innovations that have helped to shape your area of the market? Are there technological or conceptual developments that have been inflection points in this field? And how has the field evolved since these inflection points? Try to gain a full understanding of the leading trends in the marketplace, as well as the path that led to this point. The better you understand what came before, the more readily you will be able to anticipate future developments in your field. Naturally, this anticipation could be the key to tremendous success.

22. What do the success stories in your industry look like?

Speaking of success, it’s not a bad idea to get a firsthand glimpse at exactly what this looks like. You’ve already identified the leading competitors in the field. Now find out what got them to where they are today? What was the unique value proposition that each of these successful businesses offered? What innovations did these businesses bring to the market? In short, what were the keys to their success? Whether you hope to replicate, build on, or surpass that success, the first step is to fully understand how your competitors achieved it. Every company has a story. Explore these stories and think about how they can inform your success.

23. What do the failures in your industry look like?

Not to be negative, but you can also learn a lot from the failures in your midst. Just as the sector you plan to enter is populated with winners, the world of business must also have losers. Find out more about the also-rans, the companies that tried, failed, and folded. These are cautionary tales with tremendous value to you, as a new entrant into the field. What were the causes of their failure–a failure to differentiate themselves, a lack of capital, poor organization, or just bad luck? All are possibilities, and more. Before you launch your business, use these stories of disappointment and poor fortune to identify, anticipate and sidestep your own pitfalls.

The Customers

24. Who are your customers?

Now that you know the competition, it’s absolutely critical that you also identity your customer base. Which demographics do you expect to serve, and more importantly, how well do you know the real people who make up these demographics. You need to understand your target if you are to effectively market to these populations. One helpful exercise here is to actually create target customer personas as hypothetical use cases for your products or services. To clarify, we mean that you should literally write out 300 word descriptions of imaginary customers–who they are, what their needs are, and why they are likely to find your product or service offering to be the ideal solution to that need. Beyond identifying customers by what you perceive to be key demographics, this exercise should allow you to hone in on individual customer types. Create characters around these customers and do your best to put yourself in their shoes. The better you understand exactly who your customers are, the easier it will be for you to identify their needs and provide products and services that effectively meet these needs.

25. Is there a large enough market for your product or service to fuel a profitable business?

Identifying your target customers should naturally lend an answer to this subsequent question. Does the customer base that you’ve identified constitute a large enough population to support your product or service? In the section below, we’ll discuss some of the financial components of starting a business. These will make it a bit easier to address a question like this. But on its own, the purpose of this question is to determine whether there is realistically a large enough market for your offering to fuel a profitable business. Without enough prospective buyers, it won’t matter how innovative your idea is. It will still be unlikely to generate a profit.

26. How will you market yourself to your target customers?

Now that you know who your customers are, and how many of them are out there, you have to figure out how you’ll reach them. This means determining where your prospective customers hang out. Are they online, browsing store aisles, or doing a bit of both? Are they reading print ads, clicking onto products from various social media accounts, or making their purchasing decisions based on word of mouth? This offers further motivation for getting to know your intended target market on a deeper and more personal level. As an article from The Score explains, “Knowing your target audience will also help you know how to market your business. For example, younger audiences may be attracted to social media channels, such as Snapchat or Instagram, while B2B audiences may respond better to webinars and white papers. Do you want to focus on SEO and content marketing or do you want to spend time gaining reviews and word-of-mouth referrals? Before you start a business, it’s important to understand where and how you are going to market that company. The best brands in the world have figured out how to communicate their value proposition effectively.” You need to be able to draw the triangulating lines that connect your marketing strategy, your value proposition, and your customer.

27. What is your marketing budget?

On the one hand, there’s the strategy you plan to implement in order to reach your prospective customer base. On the other hand, there’s the actual amount of money that you have with which to do so. Again, we’ll address some of the financial components of your startup business in the section below. But the purpose of the question in this section is to incline you to think realistically about what it costs to reach your targets through the various channels where you are most likely to find them. Will you be budgeted for a robust marketing campaign right out of the gate, or will you opt for a soft launch while you raise additional funding? The latter option may even be preferable if you are still in the process of working out the kinks in your product or process. In other words, you’ll want to develop an initial marketing budget based both on your available resources and your readiness for an influx of new customers.

28. Are your customers local, online or both?

Speaking of new customers, where are you expecting to find them, and where are you most likely to complete transactions with these customers? Is your business a strictly online business with a national or even global customer demographic? Is your business a strictly local operation like a landscaping business, a wedding cake baker, or a dentist? If it’s the latter, your strategy for reaching customers will likely be quite different from the strategy of those in the former category. Geography matters when marketing to your customer base for a variety of reasons, including its impact on the channels you will use to reach them, the language and tone you will use to engage them, and the nature of the products and services you will make available to them. Make sure your product or service offerings, and your marketing strategy, match the practical geographical expectations of your target.

29. Are there underserved groups in this space, or gaps in the marketplace?

Have you identified a unique subset of your chosen marketplace that is not currently being reached by your anticipated competitors? This could represent the opportunity to fill a need in your space. Remember those target personas that you developed? Now let’s think of some personas that are not having their needs met in the current marketplace. Are there prospective customers who are being priced out by the cost of products and services in your industry? Are there customers who require a more specialized type of service that simply isn’t available? Is there a geographic or cultural enclave that isn’t being reached by the messaging and marketing of current competitors? Try to find gaps in the way the marketplace is being served. These gaps could represent a substantial opportunity both to address unmet customer needs and to facilitate the growth of your business. Depending on the nature of your business, carving out a specialized niche could be just as profitable as taking a lead position in the industry, writ large.

The Financial Components

30. What are the startup costs for your business idea?

Once you’re certain that there is both space for your ideas in the industry and customers to help make your idea marketable, it’s time to get down to dollars and cents. How much money do you need to get your ideas off the ground? Startup costs will usually include a variety of administrative fees for licensing, registration, permitting, zoning, etc. These costs will also include property rental or purchase, any necessary insurance coverage, contract labor, employment costs, production costs, marketing costs and more. Clearly, there’s a lot of expense that comes with the start of a new business. Make sure you have a full sense of what those costs are. Refer back to your business plan for specifics. Hopefully, those specifics will also help you pin down sources for funding, whether these startup costs come from angel investors, venture capitalists, bank lenders, or from your own pocket.

31. What does it cost to make your products or deliver your services?

In addition to start up costs, you’ll need to know the operational costs of your business before you start paying the bills. If you’re manufacturing a product, you’ll need to calculate the costs of materials, labor, and delivery on the supply chain. If you’re delivering a service, you’ll need to calculate the costs of personnel, transportation, and actual labor. Do some research on your competitors to find out what they’re spending on these line items. Before you can determine what to charge for your goods and services, you need to know what it will cost you to deliver them.

32. Are there commodities that you’ll require that come with fluctuating costs?

Of course, that is easier said than done. That’s because many of the key commodities that businesses rely upon for production or for the delivery of services can fluctuate dramatically in price. The most obvious example is gas. Countless factors can impact the price of gas from inflation and supply chain disruption to natural disasters and political unrest. Of course, these occurrences can be highly difficult to predict, which means the price of this essential commodity can be difficult to anticipate. This directly impacts businesses that rely upon gas-powered vehicles for delivery or gas powered machinery for manufacturing. And of course, this is just one example. Shifts in the cost of lumber can have rippling effects on costs for builders and contractors. Changes in the availability of corn, rice, wheat, or soy can impact prices across the food distribution and service industries. These pricing fluctuations can impact profit margins and ultimately shape the price that you pass along to consumers. These fluctuations can be quite unpredictable. As you initiate your business, take into consideration your reliance on commodities that tend to fluctuate in value. To the extent that is possible, you’ll want to prepare for these possibilities in both your budgeting and pricing structure.

33. How will you price your products or services?

Speaking of pricing structure, it’s important to establish a price point for your products and services that makes sense within the scope of your industry and the broader economy. An article from Forbes notes that pricing is a delicate balance. Forbes points out that “You don’t want to over priced, but you don’t want to price your products too low. This is where research comes in handy as you want to look at what your competitors’ price their products at. Are your items the same, more luxurious or more simple? You also want to take into consideration the packaging and postage costing as well as maintaining the business overall. Where do you fit in the market for your target consumers?” Make sure you establish a price that consumers are likely to accept, but one that also ensures the profitability of your business regardless of your operational costs and potential fluctuations in the cost of commodities.

34. What is the product life-cycle for the goods or services you plan to deliver?

Obviously, you want to provide high quality products and services. This is a great way to ensure customer loyalty. On the other hand, nothing lasts forever. Do your products have a relative expiration date? Does the impact of your services have a diminishing benefit over time? In other words, will your customers ultimately need to update or upgrade the products they’ve purchased from you? Will they need regular service visits to ensure the continued effectiveness of the services rendered? This is important to know, because the timeline from initial purchase to subsequent purchase or service visit may tell you a great deal about your company’s profitability. If the goods and services you offer do indeed have a finite lifespan, be sure you have positioned your company to provide the appropriate replacements or repairs when the time is right.

35. How will you define financial success?

We recognize that this is a fairly broad question, but it is worthwhile to identify some financial benchmarks by which to log your own successes. Before you launch your business, you should have a clear sense of the milestones that you will use to mark your progress. Will you be targeting a specific amount of annual revenue; a break even point based on your initial investment; or a certain degree of profitability? What financial achievements will you use to track your company’s progress? Identify these measures in advance so that you have some concrete financial goals to shoot for.

36. Will you be opening a separate business bank account?

This is a good idea even if you operate as a sole proprietorship. A designated business account can make it a great deal easier to conduct effective accounting, to keep your personal finances separate, and to process customer payments. Indeed, you can set your business account to feed inputs into your accounting software, to accept credit card payments, to make payments on your business credit card, and more. In the simplest terms, you really should have a separate business bank account even for the smallest and most independent of operations. It helps to keep things clear and organized while reducing your personal financial risk.

The Organization

37. What skills do you bring to the table? What skills will you need to source from others?

You’ve decided to launch your own business, so obviously you are enterprising and ambitious. But what other virtues do you bring to the table? Are you good at delegating responsibilities and communicating ideas to others? Or are you better at wheeling and dealing with other business leaders? Do you have a gift for understanding and connecting with clients or are your skill sets more technical? It’s important to identify the talents you bring to the table for a few reasons. First and foremost, you’ll want to channel your greatest strengths into helping get this company off the ground. But secondly, and just as importantly, you’ll want to identify the areas where you may not be as strong. These are areas where you might want to enlist engagement from others. If you excel at business planning but are less skilled at engaging personnel, you may wish to partner with somebody who has managerial skills. If you bring a ton of technical expertise to the table but you don’t really know how to crunch the numbers in order to turn a profit, bring in somebody with financial management experience. In short, identify the areas where you excel, and partner with those who excel in areas where you don’t.

38. Are you still planning to work your day job?

This is worth asking if only because it underscores just how much time you’ll be able to invest in launching your own company. It’s understandable that you wish (or need) to retain your paying income even as you work to get a new company off the ground. But if this is the case, you simply need to be realistic about how much time you have to invest in your new venture. Divided attention may delay or even stand in the way of establishing a successful business. Taking the leap from full time work into full startup mode can be scary, but it may also be the only way to make it really work. If you have a day job with flexibility, you may be able to do both. But if your daily work responsibilities are standing in the way of your ability to launch a new company, you may want to think very seriously about taking the full leap into your new venture, and if possible, paying yourself a salary from the startup funding or revenue generated by this business.

39. How many employees will be needed to make this business work?

Speaking of taking a salary, you may not be the only one that your new company must pay. If you are a sole proprietorship, this probably isn’t a concern for you. But most business enterprises require other people to succeed. How many people you need to succeed will depend entirely on the initial scale of your organization. To the point, an article from Forbes notes the importance of anticipating the startup scale of your organization. Realistically speaking, what are the labor requirements for making your idea into a reality? Forbes notes that you may be “starting this business solo or with a business partner, but you also want to consider how many employees you will need as the time goes on. This is important to consider if you are beginning a business with the idea that it will scale up in the future, and require a team for growth.”

40. Is your business idea scalable? Can your company grow, and if so, what will that mean?

Speaking of growth, what do you envision for the future of your company? Are you providing a product that can be manufactured and distributed en masse? Are you offering a service that can be made widely accessible? How realistic is it that your company could expand regionally, nationally, or even globally? And if it did, what would that mean for your overhead costs, the size of your labor pool, and the potential for profitability? While all of these ambitions may be well in the future, you’ll want to anticipate these possibilities even now, at the outset of your business venture. Are these ambitions possible? Does your business model allow for this level of growth? And if not, what must you do to make this type of growth possible? Take steps now to analyze and recognize the potential scalability of your business model. This consideration may prevent you from suddenly realizing at some future date that you’ve reached the limits of your company’s ability to grow.

41. What logistical challenges will you have to address?

While there is a lot that you can control as a business entrepreneur, you must also rely on the competence of others to carry out your work. This may include mail sorters, parcel delivery services, truck driving fleets, port workers and countless others in the supply chain who will contribute to the timeliness of your shipments. Whether you’re waiting for incoming supplies or banking on the expedient shipment of outgoing products, there are logistical factors that will contribute directly to your costs of operation and your organizational efficiency. Make sure you have a full understanding of these logistical factors, and that you’re prepared to manage the challenges that these factors can sometimes impose on your ability to serve customers effectively.

42. Are there political externalities to consider?

In addition to logistical concerns, there are some businesses that are directly at the mercy of external political factors. Are you entering into the type of business that relies on government funding, that requires the efforts of lobbyists, or that touches upon an area that is considered divisive in American politics? Some products and services may even fluctuate in popularity based on their political and cultural appeal. Does your business idea depend on the political dominance of one party or another? Is your business model vulnerable to fluctuations in prevailing political ideals? If this is the case, you should be aware of the potential ebbs and flows this could create in your company’s popularity and relevance. These factors could consequently cause ongoing volatility in your company’s bottom line.

43. Will it be possible to delegate leadership responsibilities to others?

What role do you see for yourself in this company? Will you be a hands-on, day-to-day business manager? Or are you more likely to delegate responsibilities and take a hands off approach? The answer to this question should depend on your skill sets. Some business managers prefer to oversee every detail of their company’s operations. But speaking with candor, the most successful business owners are those that can effectively hand business leadership responsibilities over to trusted employees. In an ideal world, you would be able to delegate most daily management tasks to trusted personnel in your organization.

44. Do you plan to exit your business at any time?

This may seem like kind of a funny question to ask when you’re literally at the very start of running your own business. But it may be valuable to consider this question before you get your business off the ground. Do you envision this as a family company, one that you will ultimately pass on to the next generation? Or is it merely a profitable idea that you would ultimately sell to the highest bidder? In short, do you see yourself running this company for the rest of your working life, or would you be just as happy (if not happier) to create a valuable enterprise that ultimately sells to a bigger company for a big price tag? If you chose the latter, we can’t say we blame you.

45. What is your company’s identity, and how does this connect to your target market?

Your brand refers to the way you present yourself. So how do you intend to present your company? This should be a function of your target market. If you’re pursuing a younger demographic, you’ll want to establish an identity that is at once informal and authentic. If you’re pursuing a demographic of business professionals, you’ll want to establish an identity that is polished and articulate. Such is to say that your intended audience will play a big role in defining your brand. Make sure you establish an identity–in your imagery, marketing material, and personnel–that reflects the desires of your target demographic.

46. What are your company values?

Your brand is more than just an abstract vibe. It’s also the foundation underlying your company’s values–the things that your organization stands for. Identify those values from the start and it can help you to better understand your own brand. Is your company focused on affordability, accessibility and inclusion? Do your values emphasize activism in the face of global climate change? Or are your company’s values simply focused on creating profits for your shareholders? Whatever demographics and priorities you serve, take time to articulate your company values now. This may help to create a brand that truly resonates with your target audience over the long haul.

47. Does your company have a mission and vision?

Your values are an indication of what your company stands for. By contrast, your mission and vision speak to what your company actually intends to do. What do you hope to accomplish as an organization? Is it innovation, equality, environmental justice, social progress, or technological advancement, just to name a few of the infinite possible answers to that question? Part of establishing your brand is articulating the mission that your company will actively pursue and the vision that your company will hold as its grandest ambition.

48. How will you convey this brand?

Now that you’ve pinned down your brand, how can you be sure that others will perceive the image that you’re putting out there? Do you have plans to build a website that captures your company’s identity, tone and vibe? Do you have a way to source a logo, color palette, and iconography that match your organization’s culture, energy, and intent? In most cases, these are tasks that you will want to outsource to qualified third-party providers. But you’ll need to establish your own clear sense of these things first. Take time to think about the aesthetic that you believe will best convey your company’s identity and find artists, copywriters and web designers who will work closely with you to capture this aesthetic

49. Do you need any special patents or trademark copyrights?

In addition to working with artists and web designers to create your company’s iconography, you’ll want to work with lawyers to ensure that this ephemera is protected from intellectual property theft. That’s why, according to our own Ultimate Guide to Starting a Business, “Many companies apply for trademarks to protect the unique components of their company. Trademarks can cover a specific brand, a logo, a catchphrase, or product design. Or anything else that sets your business apart from your competitors.” Make sure you apply for these protections in the early going. When your company achieves massive success, you’ll be glad that you secured your images and icons against misuse.

50. Does your company have a story to tell?

Part of your brand identity is your personal history, the history of your idea, and the history of the organization you’ve built to deliver that idea to your customers. Find a compelling way to tell this story in your company’s literature, on your website, and through your marketing materials. Your company’s story can help to personalize the purchasing experience for your customers, to make your brand more relatable, and to ultimately help you establish an identity with lasting commercial impact.

Looking for even more detail on how to succeed at business? Our Ultimate Guide to Starting a Business includes step by step details on how to create a business plan, a rundown of special business permits and licenses, and tons of other actionable tips on getting your business venture off the ground. 

  • Share full article

For more audio journalism and storytelling, download New York Times Audio , a new iOS app available for news subscribers.

The Daily logo

  • May 3, 2024   •   25:33 The Protesters and the President
  • May 2, 2024   •   29:13 Biden Loosens Up on Weed
  • May 1, 2024   •   35:16 The New Abortion Fight Before the Supreme Court
  • April 30, 2024   •   27:40 The Secret Push That Could Ban TikTok
  • April 29, 2024   •   47:53 Trump 2.0: What a Second Trump Presidency Would Bring
  • April 26, 2024   •   21:50 Harvey Weinstein Conviction Thrown Out
  • April 25, 2024   •   40:33 The Crackdown on Student Protesters
  • April 24, 2024   •   32:18 Is $60 Billion Enough to Save Ukraine?
  • April 23, 2024   •   30:30 A Salacious Conspiracy or Just 34 Pieces of Paper?
  • April 22, 2024   •   24:30 The Evolving Danger of the New Bird Flu
  • April 19, 2024   •   30:42 The Supreme Court Takes Up Homelessness
  • April 18, 2024   •   30:07 The Opening Days of Trump’s First Criminal Trial

The Protesters and the President

Over the past week, thousands of students protesting the war in gaza have been arrested..

Hosted by Michael Barbaro

Featuring Jonathan Wolfe and Peter Baker

Produced by Diana Nguyen ,  Luke Vander Ploeg ,  Alexandra Leigh Young ,  Nina Feldman and Carlos Prieto

Edited by Lisa Chow and Michael Benoist

Original music by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano

Engineered by Chris Wood

Listen and follow The Daily Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Amazon Music | YouTube

Warning: this episode contains strong language.

Over the past week, students at dozens of universities held demonstrations, set up encampments and, at times, seized academic buildings. In response, administrators at many of those colleges decided to crack down and called in the local police to detain and arrest demonstrators.

As of Thursday, the police had arrested 2,000 people across more than 40 campuses, a situation so startling that President Biden could no longer ignore it.

Jonathan Wolfe, who has been covering the student protests for The Times, and Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent, discuss the history-making week.

On today’s episode

before starting your business plan

Jonathan Wolfe , a senior staff editor on the newsletters team at The New York Times.

before starting your business plan

Peter Baker , the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times covering President Biden and his administration.

A large crowd of people in a chaotic scene. Some are wearing police uniforms, other are wearing yellow vests and hard hats.

Background reading

As crews cleared the remnants of an encampment at U.C.L.A., students and faculty members wondered how the university could have handled protests over the war in Gaza so badly .

Biden denounced violence on campus , breaking his silence after a rash of arrests.

There are a lot of ways to listen to The Daily. Here’s how.

We aim to make transcripts available the next workday after an episode’s publication. You can find them at the top of the page.

The Daily is made by Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Chris Wood, Jessica Cheung, Stella Tan, Alexandra Leigh Young, Lisa Chow, Eric Krupke, Marc Georges, Luke Vander Ploeg, M.J. Davis Lin, Dan Powell, Sydney Harper, Mike Benoist, Liz O. Baylen, Asthaa Chaturvedi, Rachelle Bonja, Diana Nguyen, Marion Lozano, Corey Schreppel, Rob Szypko, Elisheba Ittoop, Mooj Zadie, Patricia Willens, Rowan Niemisto, Jody Becker, Rikki Novetsky, John Ketchum, Nina Feldman, Will Reid, Carlos Prieto, Ben Calhoun, Susan Lee, Lexie Diao, Mary Wilson, Alex Stern, Dan Farrell, Sophia Lanman, Shannon Lin, Diane Wong, Devon Taylor, Alyssa Moxley, Summer Thomad, Olivia Natt, Daniel Ramirez and Brendan Klinkenberg.

Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Paula Szuchman, Lisa Tobin, Larissa Anderson, Julia Simon, Sofia Milan, Mahima Chablani, Elizabeth Davis-Moorer, Jeffrey Miranda, Renan Borelli, Maddy Masiello, Isabella Anderson and Nina Lassam.

Jonathan Wolfe is a senior staff editor on the newsletters team at The Times. More about Jonathan Wolfe

Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent for The Times. He has covered the last five presidents and sometimes writes analytical pieces that place presidents and their administrations in a larger context and historical framework. More about Peter Baker

Luke Vander Ploeg is a senior producer on “The Daily” and a reporter for the National Desk covering the Midwest. More about Luke Vander Ploeg



  1. How To Write A Business Plan (2024 Guide)

    Describe Your Services or Products. The business plan should have a section that explains the services or products that you're offering. This is the part where you can also describe how they fit ...

  2. How To Start A Business In 11 Steps (2024 Guide)

    The best way to accomplish any business or personal goal is to write out every possible step it takes to achieve the goal. Then, order those steps by what needs to happen first. Some steps may ...

  3. How to Write a Business Plan: Guide + Examples

    Most business plans also include financial forecasts for the future. These set sales goals, budget for expenses, and predict profits and cash flow. A good business plan is much more than just a document that you write once and forget about. It's also a guide that helps you outline and achieve your goals. After completing your plan, you can ...

  4. How to Start a Business: A Comprehensive Guide and Essential Steps

    Fact checked by. Vikki Velasquez. Starting a business in the United States involves a number of different steps, spanning legal considerations, market research, creating a business plan, securing ...

  5. How to Write a Business Plan: Beginner's Guide (& Templates)

    Step #3: Conduct Your Market Analysis. Step #4: Research Your Competition. Step #5: Outline Your Products or Services. Step #6: Summarize Your Financial Plan. Step #7: Determine Your Marketing Strategy. Step #8: Showcase Your Organizational Chart. 14 Business Plan Templates to Help You Get Started.

  6. 12 Steps to Start a Thriving Business in 2024

    7. Write your business plan. You need a business plan before starting a business. This isn't about checking a box but improving your understanding of what it takes to run a successful business. 8. Make your business legal. Before setting up shop, you must check all the necessary legal boxes.

  7. Starting a Business: Considerations Before Opening a Business

    Identifying a solid idea for your new company and then writing a business plan are the critical first steps in the process of starting a business. 3. Choose a legal structure. Selecting the proper legal structure for your business at the outset is critical, especially since it's not an easy change to make after the fact.

  8. How to Start a Business: A Startup Guide for Entrepreneurs [Template]

    1. Write a business plan. Your business plan maps out the details of your business, including how it's structured, what product or service you'll sell, and how you'll be selling it. Creating a business plan will help you find any obstacles on the horizon before you jump into running a business.

  9. How to Write a Business Plan in 9 Steps (+ Template and Examples)

    1. Create Your Executive Summary. The executive summary is a snapshot of your business or a high-level overview of your business purposes and plans. Although the executive summary is the first section in your business plan, most people write it last. The length of the executive summary is not more than two pages.

  10. How to Start a Business in 15 Steps

    5 best places to advertise your business online. 13. Set up a payments system. If your business takes credit and debit cards, you'll likely need a payment processor and point-of-sale (POS) system ...

  11. How to Start a Small Business: An Ultimate Guide

    Step 1: Come Up With a Business Idea. All businesses start with the same first step— coming up with a business idea. When coming up with an idea for your business, consider your own skills and experiences, as well as business trends and problems or pain points your business could help address.

  12. 2 Critical Things to Do Before Starting a Business

    Do some self-reflection. At the start, it's likely just you building the business. You need to know why you want to come in day after day. You need to understand your limitations. And ideally, have a support network to talk to. So, before you start coming up with the perfect business idea—look inward and have answers to the following ...

  13. What to Do Before Starting a Business

    7. Understand the risk. Of course, launching a new business venture will always involve a level of risk. Calculating, understanding and planning for risk is an important step to take before you ...

  14. 20 Factors To Consider Before Starting a Business

    Researching your competition can also bring partnership opportunities like a bundle promotion or a local street fair or festival. 19. Record keeping. Before you start your business, make a plan to record your sales, income, expenses and operation costs. Staying organized can help you track your budget and file taxes.

  15. 6 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Business

    Harvard Business School Online's Business Insights Blog provides the career insights you need to achieve your goals and gain confidence in your business skills. 6 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Business. If you're considering starting your own business, you're not alone. Between 2020 and 2021, more than 838,000 new businesses were ...

  16. 5 Things to Know and Do Before Writing Your Business Plan

    2. Conduct market research. Before you start writing your business plan, you also need to conduct market research. This involves gathering information about potential customers, competitors and ...

  17. Start a Business From Scratch in 6 Easy Steps

    Landscaping and Gardening Services: Turn your love of plants into a business with basic gardening tools. For more business options and a process to generate ideas, check out our guide on developing good business ideas. 2. Find product-market fit. Landing on an idea is not enough to create a viable business.

  18. How to Write a Business Plan for a Small Business

    Traditional business plan. This is a formal document for pitching to investors based on the outline in this article. If your business is a complicated one, the plan may exceed the typical length and stretch to as many as 50 pages. One-page business plan. This is a simplified version of a formal business plan designed to fit on one page.

  19. What to Consider Before Starting a Business

    The right business. Ideally, there are two things to consider. First, the type of business. The right business for one person is very different than the right business for another. In my case ...

  20. 17 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Starting A Business

    16. What are my goals? Yes, you want to start your business but what are your goals with it? Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years time? These are some thoughts to have before you begin, it ...

  21. The Benefits of a Good Business Plan

    A business plan with a table of contents is even more enticing to potential investors. Devise a marketing strategy for reaching your target market. Understand your market niche by conducting a market analysis of your competition. This is known as competitive analysis. Anticipate potential market challenges.

  22. 50 Questions to Ask Before Starting a New Business

    Don't rush this stage. Take the time to brainstorm ideas, run them by people you know and trust, and don't settle for something that doesn't feel right. Once you come up with the right business name, you can move on to the clerical steps like registration, licensing, and tax filing. 6.

  23. If You Do One Thing Before Starting Your Small Business, Do This

    KEY POINTS. Getting your affairs in order before starting a small business can help you be more successful in the long run. Before starting a small business, consider drafting a business plan to ...

  24. The Protesters and the President

    Hosted by Michael Barbaro. Featuring Jonathan Wolfe and Peter Baker. Produced by Diana Nguyen , Luke Vander Ploeg , Alexandra Leigh Young, Nina Feldman and Carlos Prieto. Edited by Lisa Chow and ...