How to write a business plan outline

This guide highlights the key elements that should be in your business plan and why.

When the topic of business plans comes up, it tends to polarize people into two separate camps: those that think business plans are worth the effort to put together and those that think that unless you're trying to raise money, writing a business plan is a waste of time. For Ellen Rohr, a business consultant and founder of Bare Bones Biz, the answer lies somewhere in between.

"The primary purpose of a business plan is to help you gain clarity and hold yourself accountable for moving in the direction of what you want," she says. "The secondary purpose is to attract investors, or get a loan, or get buy-in from your spouse, partner, parent, kid, team members, or whomever. Unless you have your intentions for your business written down, you might miss an opportunity to communicate it to someone else or even to clarify things for yourself."

Said another way, writing a business plan is not something that needs to take you months of effort, says Rohr, who wrote a book called, The Weekend Biz Plan. In fact, your best bet might be to start by crafting a business plan outline where you highlight the key elements that both define your vision for your business while also defining some of the key first steps you'll take to make that vision a reality. The point of doing this is to make sure the plan gets used, not stuffed in some drawer," says Rohr. "So the best place to focus is on the activities in the process that move you to action." asked Rohr to guide us through the key elements that should be in your business plan outline and why:
How to Write a Business Plan Outline: Your Mission
"One of my colleagues has a standing bet that if anyone can recite their company's mission statement by heart, he'll give them the $100 he keeps in his wallet," says Rohr. "That $100 bill hasn't moved in years." The point, of course, is that most entrepreneurs turn into novelists when it comes to writing their mission statement. Rohr says that you should be able to write yours in a maximum of 25 words and ideally in eight. "Your mission statement should be a simple answer to the question: Why are you doing this?" she says. "The simple answer is to define exactly why this business gets you out of bed in the morning."

How to Write a Business Plan Outline: Your Goals
This section should answer the question of what you want to have listed in terms of dollars, numbers, hours, percentages—some achievable thing, says Rohr. "Focus on the notion of, 'This is what I want to have,'" she says. "Just pick something. I'm less concerned with what the goal is than as much as you pick some point on the horizon that you can aim toward."

That could mean targeting $1 million in sales, hiring five new people for your team, or even allocating two hours a day to the tasks that you love to engage in. "The key to goal setting is to find ones big enough to inspire you but not big enough to collapse you," says Rohr. "You don't necessarily have to achieve your goals. But if you get good at picking ones that [you can] accomplish, and then creating new ones, your confidence will increase."

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