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How to Write a Business Plan

man writing on a pad of paper
A good business plan is necessary to business success.

A Business Plan is a written document which develops and details the potential of a new business as well as the knowledge and the credibility of the author/owner. It is the roadmap the business will follow as it becomes established and opens for business.

When a small business person launches a business without the simplest of business plans, too many variables are left to face when things don’t go as planned. 

The business plan does a number of things

  • It proves that the author has the drive and the knowledge to put the plan together. (Tip, your mentor, business partner, funder, family, etc. will take you much more seriously with a business plan in hand).
  • It points out to the author (you) what he or she does not yet know about the business, usually finance and/or marketing, and compels them to learn it or seek out resources to support their knowledge. 
  • It shows the reader (banker or see above?) that the author understands all aspects of the business and is prepared to operate in a professional, ethical, and credible manner.
  • And, finally, it indicates to the lenders (if you rely on financial support from anywhere) that the owner and the business have the character, ability and desire to pay back a loan on time, every time. (Bankers like that.)

The best business plans are those completely written by the new business owner since you are the one in need of all of the information the plan develops (and the one who knows the most about your business. 

A good business plan should honestly and completely present the following:

  1. Cover Page – company name, author and contact information (especially in formal presentations)
  2. Table of Contents – because no two business plans are quite the same and 60 pages can get cumbersome for anyone
  3. Executive Summary – normally just two short paragraphs to describe the business and what the plan is for.  (Do this last; by then you’ll have language to describe it succinctly).
  4. Description of the Business – include your mission statement, company goals, objectives and philosophy, business model structure, and relevant business history, if applicable.
  5. Description of Major Products or Services Offered – here you want to “sell” your special sauce – the advantages, disadvantages, pricing, etc., in detail. Suppliers lists, sales literature, marketing plans, competitive analysis, and financial forecasts may be added as appendices.
  6. Operations Plans – describe how your business will run. Define layouts, inventory, hours, equipment and labor needs and how they will help you reach your desired outcomes.
  7. Marketing Plans – examine your industry and your niche to determine who your customers are, your competition’s good and bad points, details of the where, how, costs and timing of your marketing and events, and define your messaging and measurements of success. 
  8. Management and Personnel Section – describe the owner’s background and experience, and define others by title. Discuss staffing needs to meet your goals, and where you’ll find staff.
  9. Financial Statements – as appropriate for the size and scope of the business provide documentation such as startup expenses, cash flow, breakeven point, profit margin, profit & loss, balance sheet, pricing calculations, owner’s personal financial statement, and any others that your financial institution can use to help you achieve financing (if and when you need it).
  10. Appendices – contain key supporting documents, drawings, contracts, sales and other literature, which have been referenced and supporting points made in the text.

About How Long is a Business Plan?

  • Summary Plan – from a few to 15 pages. Used for startups, bank funding, crowdfunding, more modest investment needs, and smaller companies.
  • Full Plan – 20 to 50 or more pages. For major financing, manufacturing companies, and more complex businesses.
  • Operational Plan – Used internally to guide a company and its management on major new product developments, etc.

Learn more from SCORE

Sponsored by the City of South Haven, South Haven Chamber of Commerce, and Lake Michigan College.

Congratulations to Gregory Shelton of Grand Unique Laundry for receiving his first loan through Northern Initiatives. With help from his SCORE mentor, Cheri Bales, Gregory did a fantastic job on developing his business plan and showing real entrepreneurial spirit. We wish you much success, and look forward to your upward movement. You are a wonderful role model.

—Gregory Shelton of Grand Unique Laundry

I appreciate your ears for listening, your eyes that see my vision and your heart that makes you who you are.  I thank you for your time. You are making a difference.

—Shawntel Lindsey, Director, The Artbor Community Connections Center

The WMed Innovation Center is a perfect environment for innovation to grow and become a successful commercial enterprise.


WMU Business Connection logo

Whether you are seeking a research partner or want to enlist the help of student groups in developing business plans, or just looking for ways to engage with WMU, the Business Connection office can find the resource to help move your business forward.


A loan (from Local Initiatives Support Corporation) helped expand our cafe to triple our seating, add a kids space, increase much needed staff work areas, and make other improvements to the space.


MEL logo

The Michigan eLibrary (MeL) is the State of Michigan’s digital library. It has excellent resources available to Michigan residents at no cost.


Western Michigan University’s Starting Gate helped me take an idea and transform it into a much more attainable reality. Whether providing talks with investors and business owners or accountability, the ultimate goal is helping your business succeed.

—Peter Shutt

Kalamazoo County Land Bank logo

The Kalamazoo Land Bank did robust community engagement around the vision and gave us something to work with that was solidly desired by people in the neighborhood. Having a vision meant we had to protect it. That’s something I thank the Land Bank for. It was difficult. It didn’t make anything faster or easier, but we got a better project in the end as a result of it.

—Matt Hollander

Buy Local logo

Buy Local Greater Kalamazoo is a hard working grassroots group focused on the greater Kalamazoo community and its small businesses. Their events and networking opportunities are the best!

—Cheri Bales

SBDC logo

Michigan SBDC is a great company providing top notch service to local businesses all over Michigan. The consultants are professional and the student workers contribute with excellent work!

—Martin Herman Sorensen