A business plan outline is the structure you should follow for this important document. Each business plan should contain specific information that details your operations, budget, marketing plan, staffing, and other key elements.

Executive Summary

Although this section will come first for readers of your business plan, you should write it last. It should pull together the highlights from each section of the plan and provide a quick summary that engages lenders, investors, and stakeholders. Your main points should be covered in two to three pages.

Business and Industry Overview

This section provides background information about your industry, including market trends, major competitors, and estimated sales. Is this industry declining, stable, or growing? What do experts predict the future holds in this industry? You should also provide information about how your company will fit into the industry.

Market Analysis

This section should cover your target market, including demographics, location, and needs and how those needs are currently met (or go unmet). The market analysis must demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of your target customers so that you can make accurate predictions about whether they will purchase your products and/or services. Your market analysis should be specific. For example, you aren't targeting all teenage girls; you're targeting all teenage girls who take dance lessons in a specific geographic region.

Competitive Analysis

This section should provide information about both your direct and indirect competitors. Evaluate their market advantage, and discuss your strategies to overcome barriers to market entry. You should also explain how your business will distinguish itself from competitors in order to succeed.

Sales and Marketing Plan

This should comprise a thorough discussion of your sales and marketing strategy, including promotional activities, pricing, and benefits of your products and services. You must create a unique selling proposition for your business that indicates the attraction for customers.

Your pricing strategy, which is included in the section, should:

  • Provide a suggested price for your products or services.
  • Offer comparison with competitor pricing.
  • Explain the rationale behind your pricing.
  • Show how this price will create profit.

Justifying a higher price for similar products offered by competitors can be challenging in a price-driven market.

One common pricing strategy is cost-plus pricing, in which you add a percentage margin to the cost of your product or service. This allows you to earn a guaranteed margin on every sale but could place your prices outside the range your target customers are willing to pay.

With benefit-driven pricing, you estimate the amount the customer will gain by using your product or service and set your price as a percentage of this gain. This is easiest when the product or service has a measurable benefit. This strategy allows you to maximize your pricing, but it can be challenging to find the right market price.

Ownership and Management Plan

This section details your executive and management team as well as the legal structure of your business. This should include both internal and external needs and resources as well as other human resource needs. If you plan to seek funding, make sure you have indicated the need for an advisory board.

Operating Plan

Here, you'll describe the physical location of your business, facilities, and equipment. This should also include the staffing needs, inventory requirements and suppliers, details about the manufacturing process, and other pertinent operations information.

Financial Plan

You'll need to comprehensively describe your business's funding requirements and provide complete financial statements and analysis. This includes your business's three main financial documents:

Appendices and Exhibits

You should also append any other information that will lend credibility to your business idea. This includes:

  • Marketing studies
  • Blueprints
  • Patent applications
  • Contracts
  • Legal agreements
  • Product photographs

Business cards, product packaging samples, floor plans, and other branding materials are also appropriate.

Finishing Touches

Your business plan should look like a formal, professional document. This is especially important if you are presenting the plan to potential lenders and investors. Make sure you proofread for grammar and spelling and use appropriate formatting and margins. If you provide paper copies of the plan, have them professionally printed and bound.

If you need help with your business plan outline, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.