SCORE, a nonprofit association that helps foster startups by providing mentorship and planning tools, says that the value of completing a business plan is not the finished product, but rather the process.
"The act of planning helps you to think things through thoroughly, study and research if you are not sure of the facts, and look at your ideas critically. It takes time now, but avoids costly, perhaps disastrous, mistakes later," the introduction to SCORE's business template says.
Having a clear picture about the purpose of your business, its goals, and how it will operate is critical not only for your understanding of these issues, but more importantly to get potential lenders and investors to buy in.
Thankfully, you don't have to go to business school -- or hire someone who did -- to create a business plan. You can download a free business plan template and customize it to your needs.
Where to find free business plan templates
1. SCORE -- The nonprofit business mentorship program offers free templates for both startup and established businesses, as well as planning tools for nonprofits.
2. BPlans.com -- This site offers a free, basic template to download, and if that's not in-depth enough for you, then you can buy their Business Plan Pro software or use LivePlan, an online business plan creator with built-in formulas for financial planning, videos from experts, and the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues.
3. Office.com -- The Microsoft Office site offers a gallery of templates, including business plan checklists, financials, presentations and marketing.
4. Free-Plan -- Offers a comprehensive Word-based document that contains a detailed framework for building your business plan, including sample text, tables and charts, as well as a manual with section-by-section assistance.
5. U.S. Small Business Administration -- This site allows you to fill out a template online, with tips for what to include in each section. After completing the template, you can generate your business plan and save it to your computer as a Word document.
6. VFinance.com -- With this site you can download a free business plan template targeted to your industry, plus you'll get $75 toward three months of professional posting of your plan for potential investors to view.
7. BizGym.com -- This online business planner allows you to fill out a template on the site section by section, tracks your progress on the plan, and allows you to share the plan once its completed.
- Write your executive summary last, after you've done the work of researching and thinking about your business.
- Explain the fundamentals of your business in two pages or less. Make it enthusiastic, professional, complete and concise, advises SCORE.
- If a section of the template doesn't apply to your business, don't worry about filling it out.
- If you're having trouble filling out your template or have questions about creating a business plan, SCORE has mentors that can give you free advice in person or via e-mail. Or, look for feedback and advice from groups like the Small Business Network on LinkedIn.
- As evidenced above, there are plenty of options for free business templates, so don't feel like you need to pay for one, unless you can't find a template that thoroughly addresses your needs. Software like Business Plan Pro or Plan Write Business Planner can provide you with further customization and assistance.
- In addition to completing a business plan checklist, look for a due diligence checklist from potential lenders or investors to make sure you have a better understanding of the types of information they need.
- Many sites, including Bplans.com, Entrepreneuer.com and toolkit.com, offer free samples of business plans categorized by the type of company for you study before starting your own.
- According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, a good business plan is a living document that should be reviewed and updated regularly.
- Before getting bogged down in the details of business planning, make sure you have a clear vision and set of values for your company. This creates a roadmap for you to follow in the rest of your planning.