One of the first things you will need to do when you start your small business is to write a business plan. This is often spoken of in hushed tones as though it is a time-consuming monster of a task. It does not have to be this way — writing a successful business plan can be as simple as determining your business, schedule and budget requirements.
Writing a business plan is often as easy as going through an outline or template of your choice and answering basic questions about your business, like, "Who is your competition?" or "What is the target market for your business?"
A business plan will help you clarify your vision for what your company does, how you make money, how you find customers and how you will grow for the future. Even if your business is in the early stages, it's a good idea to write a business plan.
What Is the Easiest Way to Write a Business Plan?
The easiest way to write your business plan is to start with simple, big-picture concepts about what your business is and what you want your business to accomplish. Set aside the time and just do it. Don’t let the task become bigger in your mind than it truly is. Understand what your business is going to be and follow a template or online software that walks you through each step.
Not every business plan has to be equally complex. If you’re short on time and details, consider starting out with a lean business plan. If you are looking for financing or talking with investors, you will need to commit to a deeper dive and a more formal business plan that truly fleshes out each aspect of your business plan. Expect to be writing one to five pages of content, or if you are using one of the templates below, answering questions to fill those pages.
If you want to save time on writing your business plan, there are lots of free business planning tools and business plan templates.
Top 10 Free Tools to Use for Writing a Business Plan
When you are in the business planning stage of starting your business, you may find yourself asking: What are the tools we use in making a business plan? We have done some of the legwork for you and compiled 10 useful, easy and free tools for writing a business plan:
1. SBA (Small Business Association)
The SBA has an incredible number of free resources available to you as you start your business, and their small business plan tool provides both written direction and samples to get you from start to finish. For example, this sample of a lean startup plan shows that your business plan doesn’t have to be lengthy in order to be functional for your business.
SCORE is a nationwide network of free volunteer small business mentors. This nonprofit organization has more than 10,000 volunteers dedicated to helping small business owners with strategic advice and expertise and serves as a resource partner with the Small Business Administration (SBA).
The SCORE business plan template will walk you through the entire process of writing your business plan utilizing a series of descriptions of each section, followed by questions intended to help you write that portion of your plan. The template is free to download and is quite thorough!
Bplans is a business planning site that offers a library of over 500 free sample business plans and small business tools, guides and resources. Check out their business plan template and other sample plans that can be used to write your own business plan.
LivePlan provides a fee-based online business planning software, but with a 60-day money-back guarantee for those who aren’t sure if it’s the route they want to take. They are related to Bplans, the home of the free templates and samples above.
enloop is an online business plan software that comes with a seven-day free trial. If you are interested in more in-depth financial plans, ratio analysis or multiple business plans, they also offer paid subscriptions that can be used for a more long-term forecasting solution.
PlanBuildr advertises itself to be quick and easy with the option to try it for free. They do offer a paid service where they will assist you in writing a business plan if needed.
IdeaBuddy comes with a 15-day free trial to allow you to get a feel for their software and tools. The online software provides services supporting everything from building a business plan to financial planning.
Smartsheet offers a variety of business plan templates that go from simple to quite detailed, as well as examples, suggestions and even fill-in-the-blank templates that come pre-filled with non-business specific data such as this sample:
Visme skips the free trial and simply offers a base free account that comes with business plan templates and allows a few projects to be going at any given time. You can create your business plan within the Visme site and customize within the slides. Additional account options bring additional services such as expanded templates, the option to have more projects ongoing and a variety of other perks and widgets in each level.
10. Business Sorter
Business Sorter is an all-inclusive business planning software that comes with the ability to build multiple business plans within the larger business strategy. Each plan level comes with a 14-day free trial and then an annual subscription option after that.
Once you have your tools working for you, the business plan you are writing will feel quite a bit less daunting. Remember that your business plan is not set in stone; this is a living document that will grow with you. Feel free to make changes to your business plan if needed, particularly as your business evolves.
Do some research and decide what kind of business plan you want to start out with; this will help direct your choice of which template or tools to use to create your business plan. Have fun with it, be creative, take the time to think about what your business is going to become and visualize how you are going to get it there. A good business plan can serve as the foundation to your daily operations and a road map to your future success.
Ben Gran is a freelance writer from Des Moines, Iowa. Ben has written for Fortune 500 companies, the Governor of Iowa (who now serves as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture), the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and many corporate clients. He writes about entrepreneurship, technology, food and other areas of great personal interest.