6 Tips to Outline a Top-Notch Business Plan

UPDATED: October 21, 2015
PUBLISHED: July 30, 2015

No matter what kind of business you’re running, or in what industry, a well-thought-out business plan is absolutely critical to achieving success. But, a lot of times, entrepreneurs set out on a business endeavor without taking the time to document their goals and the tactics they plan to use to attain them. This is a crucial piece of the puzzle that is all too often disregarded.

Your plan is the foundation on which you’re building your business, and having a solid infrastructure is key. So what goes into a successful business plan? These are the things to keep at the top of your to-do list before you set a plan in motion:

1. Write it down.

It’s one thing to have great ideas about what your business can and should accomplish, but it’s another thing completely to have those goals well documented. Having a general idea of where you would like to see your business down the road isn’t enough.

Taking the time to write out a business plan not only forces you to sit down and analyze your objectives and what you need to do to accomplish them, it also helps hold you accountable. Having tangible evidence of your plan can help you stay focused while giving your team a blueprint of action items to carry out.

2. Keep your eyes peeled for market trends.

Business plans cannot be created—and definitely cannot be carried out—in a vacuum. It’s important to take the big picture into account and evaluate short-term and long-term trends that might have an impact on your industry.

If you’re in retail for example, you might want to consider implementing an omnichannel marketing strategy that serves customers both online and off. Perhaps creating a mobile app is the way to go, or maybe home delivery via drone could be a future possibility to consider. Whatever the trends are, it’s critical to keep a finger on the pulse of your industry and incorporate these foresights into your business plan. If you don’t, your competitors will, and you’ll end up paying the price.

3. Don’t get hung up on high-level.

Remaining focused on high-level numbers like profit and revenue can be tempting, especially if this is your first business plan. But the steps and procedures necessary to attain those numbers are what truly make your plan a plan

Determining your key performance indicators (KPIs) and setting targets for each individual KPI will give you manageable goals to check off your list as you work toward your overall objectives. It’s important to be honest with yourself during this step in the process. Are your goals reachable? Are your KPIs relevant? Although nothing is impossible, having realistic goals and strategies in place can keep you on the right track.

4. Organize and prioritize.

It’s easy to become disorganized or too wrapped up in one task when you’re thinking about business long term. That’s why prioritization is so important. Take it a few key initiatives at a time, tackling the most important things first. It’s equally as important to evaluate what priorities aren’t working for your business so you can shift and adjust accordingly. Keep in mind that every task and priority is a stepping stone to the next, with your long-term goals as end points.

5. Look at costs.

A common mistake that many entrepreneurs find themselves running into is forgetting to look at what it costs to grow a business. Setting a goal to double revenue in a year is wonderful, but don’t forget to budget the costs necessary to reach that kind of lofty goal. If costs aren’t taken into account from the very beginning, you might not have enough capital to reach your growth targets.

6. Think short and sweet.

Writing a lengthy business plan can become problematic for a number of reasons. If a plan is too long, it generally doesn’t get done. It also might be difficult for other people in the company to understand, and often it’s just not actionable. If possible, try limiting your business plan to one single page. It may sound crazy, but a one-pager can be extremely effective capturing the key information in an easily digestible format.

As an entrepreneur, you have great ideas. Don’t let them go to waste by skipping the important planning phase of your entrepreneurial journey. It might be a grueling step, but it’s also an imperative one. Take the time to formulate a plan, keep these tips and best practices top of mind, and stay on track to meet your goals head-on.

There are 5 characteristics common to successful entrepreneurs. Do you have what it takes?

Rick is the Chairman and CEO at Intronis, provider of backup and data protection solutions for the small business. With more than 30 years of experience in executive management, sales and marketing, he has worked for some of the world’s most successful SaaS and technology companies, including Lotus Development, j2 Global, Mzinga, Cisco, WebEx, Intranets.com and PictureTel.