Business plans are an essential element to starting and running a successful business. It doesn’t matter if your business is large, small, online or offline – having a solid business plan is a key indicator of future success. The part of the business plan that is helpful is that a business owner is forced to study the market, develop products and/or services for that market, and then use the figures discovered to determine in advance whether or not the idea has a chance of success.

Believe it or not, for some small sole proprietor businesses you can write a one-page business plan that will be effective. A larger business will need more pages, but what’s important about your business plan is that it includes the following components and covers 3 to 5 years of projections:

Executive Summary

This is first, but it’s written last because it is simply a summary of all the major points below. This usually covers less than two pages. For some small businesses, this one page is enough to help you get started on the right foot.

Company Overview and Description

Describe your company’s mission, unique differentiators, and the opportunity you are filling. Describe what gives your company an advantage, include the names and resumes of each person involved in your business, and describe everything you can about management and operations.

Market Analysis

Include a study of your competition, describe your customers and your industry as a whole, and how your business will measure up to each area that you cover. This is where you identify your target audience down to a specific persona.

Service or Product Descriptions

Detailed descriptions and samples of your products and services should go in this area. Describe your products and/or services and who exactly will be using them.

Sales and Marketing Strategy

How will you get the word out to your market? Describe in detail each and every aspect of sales and marketing, including what type of shopping cart you will use on your website or in your store. Also describe how you will market, such as via social media, print advertising, television and more. The minute details matter.

Financial Review and Projections

Your current finances should be included, such as your income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement, and budget. You should also include probable income projections based on projected future sales.

Plan of Action

Include a step-by-step plan of action to make each of your objectives and goals come to fruition. Including a time line of actions is helpful. Start from the projected date of opening and work your way backwards until today to create a realistic plan.

Taking the time to prepare a business plan will save you a lot of work later down the road. You might even avoid serious problems through analyzing the marketplace on paper, creating an environment where your business will be able to overcome serious errors before actually committing them. By doing your due diligence you’ll set yourself up for success. You know the saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”