There’s no question that starting and running a business is hard work. But it’s also incredibly rewarding. And, one of the most important things you can do to increase your chances of success is to have a business plan.
A business plan is a foundational document that is essential for any company, no matter the size or age. From attracting potential investors to keeping your business on track—a business plan helps you achieve important milestones and grow in the right direction.
A business plan isn’t just a document you put together once when starting your business. It’s a living, breathing guide for existing businesses – one that business owners should revisit and update regularly.
Unfortunately, writing a business plan is often a daunting task for potential entrepreneurs. So, do you really need a business plan? Is it really worth the investment of time and resources? Can’t you just wing it and skip the whole planning process?
Good questions. Here’s every reason why you need a business plan.
1. Business planning is proven to help you grow 30 percent faster
Writing a business plan isn’t about producing a document that accurately predicts the future of your company. The process of writing your plan is what’s important. Writing your plan and reviewing it regularly gives you a better window into what you need to do to achieve your goals and succeed.
You don’t have to just take our word for it. Studies have proven that companies that plan and review their results regularly grow 30 percent faster. Beyond faster growth, research also shows that companies that plan actually perform better. They’re less likely to become one of those woeful failure statistics, or experience cash flow crises that threaten to close them down.
2. Planning is a necessary part of the fundraising process
One of the top reasons to have a business plan is to make it easier to raise money for your business. Without a business plan, it’s difficult to know how much money you need to raise, how you will spend the money once you raise it, and what your budget should be.
Investors want to know that you have a solid plan in place – that your business is headed in the right direction and that there is long-term potential in your venture.
A business plan shows that your business is serious and that there are clearly defined steps on how it aims to become successful. It also demonstrates that you have the necessary competence to make that vision a reality.
Investors, partners, and creditors will want to see detailed financial forecasts for your business that shows how you plan to grow and how you plan on spending their money.
3. Having a business plan minimizes your risk
When you’re just starting out, there’s so much you don’t know—about your customers, your competition, and even about operations.
As a business owner, you signed up for some of that uncertainty when you started your business, but there’s a lot you can do to reduce your risk. Creating and reviewing your business plan regularly is a great way to uncover your weak spots—the flaws, gaps, and assumptions you’ve made—and develop contingency plans.
Your business plan will also help you define budgets and revenue goals. And, if you’re not meeting your goals, you can quickly adjust spending plans and create more realistic budgets to keep your business healthy.
4. Crafts a roadmap to achieve important milestones
A business plan is like a roadmap for your business. It helps you set, track and reach business milestones.
For your plan to function in this way, your business plan should first outline your company’s short- and long-term goals. You can then fill in the specific steps necessary to reach those goals. This ensures that you measure your progress (or lack thereof) and make necessary adjustments along the way to stay on track while avoiding costly detours.
In fact, one of the top reasons why new businesses fail is due to bad business planning. Combine this with inflexibility and you have a recipe for disaster.
And planning is not just for startups. Established businesses benefit greatly from revisiting their business plan. It keeps them on track, even when the global market rapidly shifts as we’ve seen in recent years.
5. A plan helps you figure out if your idea can become a business
To turn your idea into reality, you need to accurately assess the feasibility of your business idea.
You need to verify:
If there is a market for your product or service
Who your target audience is
How you will gain an edge over the current competition
If your business can run profitably
A business plan forces you to take a step back and look at your business objectively, which makes it far easier to make tough decisions down the road. Additionally, a business plan helps you to identify risks and opportunities early on, providing you with the necessary time to come up with strategies to address them properly.
Finally, a business plan helps you work through the nuts and bolts of how your business will work financially and if it can become sustainable over time.
6. You’ll make big spending decisions with confidence
As your business grows, you’ll have to figure out when to hire new employees, when to expand to a new location, or whether you can afford a major purchase.
These are always major spending decisions, and if you’re regularly reviewing the forecasts you mapped out in your business plan, you’re going to have better information to use to make your decisions.
7. You’re more likely to catch critical cash flow challenges early
The other side of those major spending decisions is understanding and monitoring your business’s cash flow. Your cash flow statement is one of the three key financial statements you’ll put together for your business plan. (The other two are your balance sheet and your income statement (P&L).
Reviewing your cash flow statement regularly as part of your regular business plan review will help you see potential cash flow challenges earlier so you can take action to avoid a cash crisis where you can’t pay your bills.
8. Position your brand against the competition
Competitors are one of the factors that you need to take into account when starting a business. Luckily, competitive research is an integral part of writing a business plan. It encourages you to ask questions like:
What is your competition doing well? What are they doing poorly?
What can you do to set yourself apart?
What can you learn from them?
How can you make your business stand out?
What key business areas can you outcompete?
How can you identify your target market?
Finding answers to these questions helps you solidify a strategic market position and identify ways to differentiate yourself. It also proves to potential investors that you’ve done your homework and understand how to compete.
9. Determines financial needs and revenue models
A vital part of starting a business is understanding what your expenses will be and how you will generate revenue to cover those expenses. Creating a business plan helps you do just that while also defining ongoing financial needs to keep in mind.
Without a business model, it’s difficult to know whether your business idea will generate revenue. By detailing how you plan to make money, you can effectively assess the viability and scalability of your business.
Understanding this early on can help you avoid unnecessary risks and start with the confidence that your business is set up to succeed.
10. Helps you think through your marketing strategy
A business plan is a great way to document your marketing plan. This will ensure that all of your marketing activities are aligned with your overall goals. After all, a business can’t grow without customers and you’ll need a strategy for acquiring those customers.
Your business plan should include information about your target market, your marketing strategy, and your marketing budget. Detail things like how you plan to attract and retain customers, acquire new leads, how the digital marketing funnel will work, etc.
Having a documented marketing plan will help you to automate business operations, stay on track and ensure that you’re making the most of your marketing dollars.
11. Clarifies your vision and ensures everyone is on the same page
In order to create a successful business, you need a clear vision and a plan for how you’re going to achieve it. This is all detailed with your mission statement, which defines the purpose of your business, and your personnel plan, which outlines the roles and responsibilities of current and future employees. Together, they establish the long-term vision you have in mind and who will need to be involved to get there.
Additionally, your business plan is a great tool for getting your team in sync. Through consistent plan reviews, you can easily get everyone in your company on the same page and direct your workforce toward tasks that truly move the needle.
12. Future-proof your business
A business plan helps you to evaluate your current situation and make realistic projections for the future.
This is an essential step in growing your business, and it’s one that’s often overlooked. When you have a business plan in place, it’s easier to identify opportunities and make informed decisions based on data.
Therefore, it requires you to outline goals, strategies, and tactics to help the organization stay focused on what’s important.
By regularly revisiting your business plan, especially when the global market changes, you’ll be better equipped to handle whatever challenges come your way, and pivot faster.
You’ll also be in a better position to seize opportunities as they arise.
13. Tracks your progress and measures success
An often overlooked purpose of a business plan is as a tool to define success metrics. A key part of writing your plan involves pulling together a viable financial plan. This includes financial statements such as your profit and loss, cash flow, balance sheet, and sales forecast.
By housing these financial metrics within your business plan, you suddenly have an easy way to relate your strategy to actual performance. You can track progress, measure results, and follow up on how the company is progressing. Without a plan, it’s almost impossible to gauge whether you’re on track or not.
Additionally, by evaluating your successes and failures, you learn what works and what doesn’t and you can make necessary changes to your plan. In short, having a business plan gives you a framework for measuring your success. It also helps with building up a “lessons learned” knowledge database to avoid costly mistakes in the future.
14. Your business plan is an asset if you ever want to sell
Down the road, you might decide that you want to sell your business or position yourself for acquisition. Having a solid business plan is going to help you make the case for a higher valuation. Your business is likely to be worth more to a buyer if it’s easy for them to understand your business model, your target market, and your overall potential to grow and scale.
By taking the time to create a business plan, you ensure that your business is heading in the right direction and that you have a roadmap to get there. We hope that this post has shown you just how important and valuable a business plan can be. While it may still seem daunting, the benefits far outweigh the time investment and learning curve for writing one.
Luckily, you can write a plan in as little as 30 minutes. And there are plenty of excellent planning tools out there if you’re looking for more step-by-step guidance. Whatever it takes, write your plan and you’ll quickly see how useful it can be.
See why 1.2 million entrepreneurs have written their business plans with LivePlan
Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software , a co-founder of Borland International, and a recognized expert in business planning.
He has an MBA from Stanford and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. Today, Tim dedicates most of his time to blogging, teaching and evangelizing for business planning.