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Like most CEOs in growing companies, one of my chief concerns has always been talent. I thought about all parts of the employee lifecycle. I obsess about finding great people, making them successful, developing their skills, and retaining them for the long haul. Research has long shown that more diverse teams produce better business results. Outside of work, I started to notice something as I entered my 40s – female friends and colleagues were leaving their careers for a period of time to focus on their children and finding it difficult to restart their careers. Their attempts were thwarted by bias from recruiters and hiring managers who were reluctant to consider a candidate with a career gap or someone who wanted something less than a full-time role. So we decided to launch an experiment at Return Path. Our CTO and human resources leaders convinced me that we could find success by building a new kind of internship program aimed specifically at women looking to restart their careers…

The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Business Plan

Writing a business plan may sound difficult and dull -- and by “may,” we mean “definitely” -- but it doesn’t have to be. Yes, we know you’re eager to dive right in on that world-changing business idea, but having your strategy on paper is critical.
In many ways, your business plan can act as a map in an entrepreneurial landscape full of potholes, dead-ends and uphill paths. With a business plan, potential investors can clearly see what they’ll be getting into, and you’ll be better prepared to explain exactly why they should be a part of your vision.
Organizing your thoughts into written paragraphs can force you to think about your goals more deeply than you otherwise would. It also makes your strategy more real; now, rather than just saying you want to raise money, you have to think about how that’s going to happen, how much you need and how you’ll use it. Writing a business plan also forces you to articulate who your target customers are and what they need, as well as how you’ll attract those customers. And this is just a small fraction of the questions you’ll have to think about.  
It’s a thorough process that can take some time, but we’re here to help. The links below will take you to articles filled with tips and tricks to make each section of your business plan the best it can be.
Read on and learn how to turn difficult and dull into intriguing and inviting.
Step 1: The Executive Summary
Step 2: The Management Section
Step 3: The Product Section
Step 4: The Industry Section
Step 5: The Marketing Section
Step 6: The Operations Section
Step 7: The Financials Section

----------------------------STEP 1---------------------------

First Steps: Writing the Executive Summary of Your Business Plan

In their book Write Your Business Plan, the staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. offer an in-depth understanding of what’s essential to any business plan, what’s appropriate for your venture, and what it takes to ensure success. In this edited excerpt, the authors outline what to include in your business plan's executive summary and why.
The first part of your business plan that anybody will see is the executive summary. It’s a brief look at the key elements of the whole plan—and it’s critical.
The executive summary should be only a page or two. In it, you may include your mission and vision statements, a brief sketch of your plans and goals, a quick look at your company and its organization, an outline of your strategy, and highlights of your financial status and needs. Your executive summary is the CliffsNotes of your business plan.
The summary is the most important part of your whole plan, so you want it to be as strong as possible because it's the first thing people read in your plan, and we all know the power of a strong first impression. This is where you want to wow people and make them think.
The executive summary has to perform a host of jobs. First and foremost, it should grab the reader’s attention. It has to briefly hit the high points of your plan. It should point readers with questions requiring detailed responses to the full-length sections of your plan where they can get answers. It should ease the task of anybody whose job it is to read it, and it should make that task enjoyable by presenting an interesting and compelling account of your company.
Here's a suggested format for an executive summary:

1. What's the business idea, what problem does it solve and how does it fit into the marketplace?

You’ll need to explain why your idea has merit and how it can solve a common problem by making things easier, faster, or cheaper for the prospective customer(s). No matter how brilliantly crafted, written and presented your business plan is, it will be difficult to win your investors, and later customers, with a bad idea. Therefore, you want to wow them first with your idea! If they’re not interested, no matter what your financials are, they won’t help.

2. How much will it cost, and how much financing are you seeking?

Provide a short explanation of how you’ll use any financing you seek. Tell investors why you need the money. Nobody wants to lend you money if they don’t know exactly why you need it. It’s not necessary to get into much detail here—just make it clear that you need it for x, y and z. You should also let the reader know how the investment will help the company grow and/or increase its profits. Why else would you be seeking funding? The best use of somebody else’s money is to buy or build something that will make more money, both for you and for that person.

3. What will the return be to the investor? Over what length of time?

In your executive summary, consider the following:
  • Friends and family want to get their money back someday but are not very interested in timing and returns.
  • Bankers look for free cash flow to pay back the principal and interest of their loan. They also look closely at management experience and marketing. They may ask for collateral. By law they have to be conservative, that is, risk averse, so they are not great candidates for risky financing.
  • Angel investors look for moderate rates of return, usually above the prime rate, plus some capital appreciation. They sometimes want to be involved at a hands-on level.
  • Venture capitalists seek annual compound rates of return in the area of 35 to 50 percent per annum. They seldom want to go longer than three to five years to cash out. They always want to know what the exit strategy is.
Don’t forget yourself: It’s a rare company that doesn’t have any investment from the entrepreneur or entrepreneurs who started it.

4. How will the ownership be divided?

When a business starts generating profits and plowing them back into the firm, value can build rapidly. Even if you aren’t in an industry likely to purchase buildings or patent valuable technology, the business derives value from the fact that it can generate profits into the future.
Spell out who owns what. If you have many equity investors coupled with a pile of creditors, this can get pretty complicated. For the summary section of your plan, a basic description such as “Ownership of the company will be divided so that each of the four original partners owns 25 percent” will suffice. If you have to negotiate details of exactly what any equity investors will get, there’s time to do that later. For now, you just want to give people an idea of how the ownership will be divided.
Additional questions you may want to consider answering in your executive summary include:
  • What is the management team?
  • What are the product and competitive strategies?
  • What is your marketing plan?
  • What is your exit strategy?

Give It a Happy Ending

The summary is the place to put your best foot forward, to talk up the upside and downplay the downside. As always, accentuating the positive doesn’t mean exaggeration or lying. If there's a really important, unusual risk factor in your plan—such as that one certain big customer has to make a huge order for the whole plan to work—then you'll want to mention that in your summary. But run-of-the-mill risks like unexpected competition or customer reluctance can be ignored here. Paint a convincing portrait of an opportunity so compelling that only a dullard wouldn't recognize it and desire to take part in it.
The key to the executive summary is to pick out the best aspects of every part of your plan. So extract the essence of each key part, and offer your readers a highlight reel of your business.

----------------------------STEP 2---------------------------

Writing the Management Section of  Your Business Plan

In their book Write Your Business Plan, the staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. offer an in-depth understanding of what’s essential to any business plan, what’s appropriate for your venture, and what it takes to ensure success. In this edited excerpt, the authors discuss what type of information you should include in the management section of your business plan.
In the management section of your business plan, you describe who'll run the company. This may be no more than a simple paragraph noting that you’ll be the only executive and describing your background. Or it may be a major section in the plan, consisting of an organizational chart outlining interrelationships among every department and manager in the company, plus bios of all key executives.
Time and again, financiers utter some variation of the following statement: “I don’t invest in ideas; I invest in people.” Whether this is the whole story—investors certainly prefer capable people with good ideas to inept people with good ideas—there’s no doubt that you, and the people who run your company, will receive considerable scrutiny from financiers as well as from customers, suppliers and anyone else with an interest in your plan. People are, after all, a company’s most important asset. Not adequately addressing this issue in a business plan is a serious failing. Luckily, it’s one of the easiest parts.
Be sure to include all of the following parts, where applicable:
You. Before you can impress people with your management team, it’s important to let your readers know who's at the helm and who's selecting the management team. You, therefore, have to let them know your background, including your vision, your credentials, and why you chose the management team you did. You need to briefly explain what's expected of this management team and the role you see them playing in the future of this business.
Your managers. Identifying your managers is about presenting what they bring to the table. You can provide this by describing them in terms of the following characteristics:
Education. Impressive educational credentials among company managers provide strong reasons for an investor or other plan reader to feel good about your company. Use your judgment in deciding what educational background to include and how to emphasize it.
Employment. Prior work experience in a related field is something many investors look for. If you’ve spent ten years in management in the retail men’s apparel business before opening a tuxedo outlet, an investor can feel confident that you know what you’re doing. Likewise, you’ll want to explain the key, appropriate positions of your team members. Describe any relevant jobs in terms of job title, years of experience, names of employers, etc. Feel free to omit any irrelevant experience.
Skills. In addition to pointing out that you were a district sales manager for a stereo-equipment wholesaler, you should describe your responsibilities and the skills you honed while fulfilling them. Again, list the skills that your management team has that pertain to this business. Each time you mention skills that you or a member of your management team has spent years acquiring at another company, it will be another reason for an investor to believe you can do it at your own company.
Accomplishments. If you or one of your team members has been awarded patents, achieved record sales gains or once opened an unbelievable number of new stores in the space of a year, now’s the time to tell about it. And don’t brag: Just be factual and remember to quantify. If, for example, you have 12 patents or your sales manager had five years of 30 percent annual sales gains, this is the stuff investors and others reading your business plan will want to see.
Personal. Investors want to know with whom they’re dealing in terms of the personal side, too. Personal information on each member of your management team may include age, city of residence, notable charitable or community activities and, last but far from least, personal motivation for joining the company. Investors like to see vigorous, committed, involved people in the companies they back. Mentioning one or two relevant personal details of your key managers may help investors feel they know what they’re getting into, especially in today’s increasingly transparent business climate.
In a longer plan, when you give your management team’s background and describe their titles, go on and tell readers exactly what each member of the management team will be expected to do in the company. This may be especially important in a startup, in which not every position is filled from the start. If your marketing work is going to be handled by the CFO until you get a little further down the road, let readers know this up front. You certainly can’t expect them to figure that out on their own.
Board members. Your board members, and their reasons for being included, should be a brief part of your business plan. A board of directors gives you access to expertise, provided you choose them wisely, but at the cost of giving up control of the business to them. Technically, the officers of a corporation report to the board of directors, who bear the ultimate responsibility for the proper management of the company.
A board of advisors is a less-formal entity. You can have the same kind of people on an advisory board but you don’t report to them nor do they have the same power as a board of directors. Your board should be able to challenge your thinking, help you solve knotty problems, and even change management if necessary.
Outside professionals. Some of the most important people who’ll do work for you won’t work for you. Your attorney, your accountant and your insurance broker are all crucial members of your team. Your business plan should reassure readers that you have your bases covered in these important professional positions.
Investors want profit. They don’t just give money to people they like or admire. But it’s also true that if they don’t like, admire or at least respect the people running your company, they’re likely to look elsewhere. The management section of your plan is where you tell them about the human side of the equation. You can’t control your readers’ responses to that, but you owe it to them to provide the information.

----------------------------STEP 3---------------------------

Writing the Product Section of  Your Business Plan

In their book Write Your Business Plan, the staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. offer an in-depth understanding of what’s essential to any business plan, what’s appropriate for your venture, and what it takes to ensure success. In this edited excerpt, the authors discuss what details you should include in the product section of your business plan.
Every business has something to sell, and the product section of your business plan is where you tell readers what it is you’re selling. (For simplicity’s sake, the term “product” is used to refer to both products and services unless otherwise indicated.) This is clearly a very important section of your plan. Business is about providing people with something they need. Your business should solve a problem, make life easier, expedite a process or even simply entertain, but you need to be selling something to have a business.
In your plan, it’s important to be able to build a convincing case for the product or service upon which your business will be built. The product description section is where you do that. In this section, describe your product in terms of several characteristics, including cost, features, benefits, distribution, target market, competition, and production concerns.
Let's talk about two of these characteristics in more detail. Features describe the make, shape, form, or appearance of a product, the characteristics that you use to describe products. These features convey benefits to the customer. Benefits (perceived benefits) are the emotional or other end results that your product or service provides that customer, the satisfaction or fulfillment of needs that a customer receives from your products or services. In the famous phrase “My factories make cosmetics, we sell hope,” cosmetics are the products, hope is the benefit.
Here are a few sample product descriptions:
Street Beat is a new type of portable electronic rhythm machine used to create musical backgrounds for street dances, fairs, concerts, picnics, sporting events, and other outdoor productions. The product is less costly than a live rhythm section and offers better sound quality than competing systems. Its combination of features will appeal to sports promoters, fair organizers, and charitable and youth organizations.
Troubleshooting Times is the only monthly magazine for the nation’s 6,000 owners of electronics repair shops. It provides timely news of industry trends, service product reviews and consumer product service tips written in a language service shop owners can understand.
HOBO, the Home Business Organization, provides business-consulting services to entrepreneurs who work out of their homes. The group connects home-business owners with experts who have extensive experience counseling home-business owners in management, finance, marketing and lifestyle issues. Unlike entrepreneurial peer groups, which charge members for attending sessions whether or not they receive useful advice, HOBO will guarantee its services, asking home-business owners to pay only if they derive solid benefit from the service.
A business plan product description has to be less image-conscious than an advertising brochure but more appealing than a simple spec sheet. You don’t want to give the appearance of trying to dazzle readers with a glitzy product sales pitch filled with a lot of hype. On the other hand, you want to give them a sampling of how you are going to position and promote the product.
A business plan product description isn't only concerned with consumer appeal. Issues of manufacturability are of paramount concern to plan readers, who may have seen any number of plans describing exciting products that, in the end, proved impossible to design and build economically.
If your product or service has special features that will make it easy to build and distribute, say so. For instance, the portable rhythm machine maker should point out in the business plan that the devices will be constructed using new special-purpose integrated circuits derived from military applications, which will vastly increase durability and quality while reducing costs.

Liability Concerns

To a typical consumer who’s purchased their share of shoddy products from uncooperative manufacturers, it’s encouraging to hear about a multimillion-dollar settlement of a consumer’s claim against some manufacturer. It provides proof that the high and mighty can be humbled and that some poor schmuck can be struck by lightning and receive a big fat check.
To manufacturers and distributors of products, however, the picture looks entirely different. Liability lawsuits have changed the landscape of a number of industries, from toy manufacturers to children’s furniture retailers.
Dealing with liability issues may be as simple as merely including a statement to the effect that you foresee no significant liability issues arising from your sale of this product or service. If there is a liability issue, real or apparent, acknowledge it in your plan and describe how you'll deal with it. For instance, you may want to take note of the fact that, like all marketers of children’s bedroom furniture, you attach warning labels and disclaimers to all your products and also carry a liability insurance policy. Let it be known that you will take all necessary steps to protect your business, your products, and yourself from litigation.

----------------------------STEP 4---------------------------

Writing the Industry Section of  Your Business Plan

In their book Write Your Business Plan, the staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. offer an in-depth understanding of what’s essential to any business plan, what’s appropriate for your venture, and what it takes to ensure success. In this edited excerpt, the authors outline what type of details you should include in the industry section of your business plan.
It isn’t enough to just work hard. If you're in the wrong industry at the wrong time, making your business grow is going to be difficult. The investment community tends to believe that any business can be buoyed by an industry on the rise and that the opposite is true in an industry whose tide is ebbing. This means it’s important for you to include an industry analysis in your business plan.
Readers of your business plan may want to see an industry on a fast-growth track with few established competitors and great potential. Or they may be more interested in a big, if somewhat slower-growing, market with competitors who have lost touch with the market, leaving the door open for rivals.
Whatever the facts are, you’ll need to support them with a snapshot analysis of the state of your industry and any trends taking place. This can’t be mere off-the-cuff thinking. You need to support your opinions with market research that identifies specific competitors and outlines their weaknesses and strengths and any barriers to entry into the market. You need to describe why your industry is valuable and how it will continue to be important. Finally, and perhaps most important, you’ll have to convincingly describe what makes you better and destined to succeed.
When preparing the state of the industry section, instead of looking at your business as a self-contained system, you’ll describe the whole industry in which you operate and point to your position in that universe. You then zero in on your country, your state and your local community, deepening on how far your business stretches.
This part of your plan may take a little more legwork than other sections because you’ll be drawing together information from a number of outside sources. You may also be reporting on or even conducting your own original research into industry affairs.
To start preparing your industry analysis and outlook, dig up the following facts about your field:
1. What is your total industry-wide sales volume? In dollars? In units?
2. What are the trends in sales volumes within your industry?         
3. Who are the major players and your key competitors? What are they like?       
4. What does it take to compete? What are the barriers to entry?     
5. What technological trends affect your industry?  
6. What are the main modes of marketing?   
7. How does government regulation affect the industry?     
8. In what ways are changing consumer tastes affecting your industry?
9. Identify recent demographic trends affecting the industry.          
10. How sensitive is the industry to seasons and economic cycles?
11. What are key financial measures in your industry (average profit margins, sales commissions, etc.)?
If your business addresses a trend before it's been widely recognized, you need to include this information in your business plan. Providing some statistics in the trends section of your plan can make it more convincing.

Barriers to Entry

If you want to become a semiconductor manufacturer, you’ll need a billion-dollar factory or two. If you want to have a TV network, you’ll need programming and cable carriage in the major markets. These problems are called barriers to entry, and they exist to some extent in all industries. The barriers may be monetary, technological, distribution or market-related, or they may simply be a matter of ownership of prime real estate.
An important part of analyzing your market is determining what the barriers to entry are and how high they stretch. If the barriers are high, as is the case with automobile manufacturing, you can be assured new competitors are likely to be slow in springing up. If the barriers are low, such as opening a nail salon, which doesn't have a huge overhead, you have more opportunity to get into the game.
Be alert for innovative competitors when writing the section of your plan in which you analyze barriers to entry. Clearly some markets are also more saturated than others, and today some are dominated by the McDonald’s of their industry. For example, it’s hard to open a bookstore today with Amazon changing the way people buy books. In that industry, you need to be creative and explore entry into specialty books, mystery books or another niche within the larger market. Exploring entry points in the marketplace carefully will save you from a disastrous error and will certainly demonstrate to investors that you’ve thought your plan through and aren't jumping to conclusions.

Identifying Competitors

You’re not alone, even if you have a one-person business. You also have your competition to worry about, and your backers will worry about competition, too. Even if you're truly in the rare position of addressing a brand-new market where no competition exists, most experienced people reading your plan will have questions about companies they suspect may be competitors. For these reasons, you should devote a special section of your plan to identifying competitors.
If you had to name two competitors in the athletic shoe market, you’d quickly come up with Nike and Reebok. But these by far aren’t the only competitors in the sneaker business. They’re just two of the main ones, and depending on the business you’re in, the other ones may be more important. If you sell soccer shoes, for instance, Adidas is a bigger player than either of the two American firms. And smaller firms such as Etonic, New Balance and Saucony also have niches where they are comparatively powerful.
You can develop a list of competitors by talking to customers and suppliers, checking with industry groups, and reading trade journals. But it’s not enough to simply name your competitors. You need to know their manner of operation, how they compete.
Does a competitor stress a selective, low-volume, high-margin business, or does she emphasize sales growth at any cost, taking every job that comes along, whether or not it fits any coherent scheme or offers an attractive profit? Knowing this kind of information about competitors can help you identify their weaknesses as well as their names.

----------------------------STEP 5---------------------------

Writing the Marketing Section of  Your Business Plan

In their book Write Your Business Plan, the staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. offer an in-depth understanding of what’s essential to any business plan, what’s appropriate for your venture, and what it takes to ensure success. In this edited excerpt, the authors discuss the information you should include in the marketing section of your business plan.
The marketing information you need to include in your business plan has to show that you know your target market and understand how to make sure those customers know where they can find you. You need to define what you're selling, at what price(s), from where, and how you're going to spread the word. To simplify, you can use the four Ps of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion.


Product, the first of the four Ps, refers to the features and benefits of what you have to sell (as usual, we’re using the term as shorthand for products and services). There are a number of issues you need to address in your product section. You need to first break out the core product from the actual product. Say you’re selling snow cones. A snow cone is your core product. But your actual product includes napkins, an air-conditioned seating area, parking spaces for customers and so forth.
In the product section, you need to define your target audience and talk about your ideal customer as if he or she is someone you know very well. For example, your ideal customer could be 25 to 29 years old, earning x amount of money, has no children yet and earned a college degree.
It's important to quantify your market’s size if possible. In addition, you may want to describe how you come up with ideas, screen them, test them, produce prototypes and so on.
You may need to discuss the life cycle of the product you’re selling. This may be crucial in the case of quickly consumed products such as corn chips and in longer-lasting items like household appliances. Understanding the product’s life cycle has a powerful effect on your marketing plan, as does knowing logical buying habits. For example, one popular department store was offering a buy-one-get-one-at-half-price deal on fine jewelry. The deal wasn't generating a strong response because most people don't shop for expensive jewelry in “bulk” quantities but instead take a personalized approach.
Other aspects of the product section may include a branding strategy, a plan for follow-up products or line extensions. Keeping these various angles on products in mind while writing this section will help you describe your product fully and persuasively.


One of the most important decisions you have to make in a business plan is what price to charge for what you’re selling. Pricing determines many things, from your profit margin per unit to your overall sales volume. It influences decisions in other areas, such as what level of service you will provide and how much you will spend on marketing. Pricing has to be a process you conduct concurrently with other jobs, including estimating sales volume, determining market trends and calculating costs.


Place refers to channels of distribution, or the means you'll use to put your product where people can buy it. This can be very simple: Retailers and many service businesses (restaurants, personal services, business services) rely primarily on location. For manufacturers, conventional distribution systems have three steps: producer, wholesaler and retailer. You may occupy or sell to members of any one of these steps.
Manufacturers require certain basic conditions for their sites, but retailers and some service firms are exquisitely sensitive to a wide variety of location factors. In some cases, a few feet can make the difference between a location that is viable and one that is not.
Site selection plans for retailers should include traffic data, demographics of nearby populations, estimated sales per square foot, rental rates, and other important economic indicators. Service firms such as restaurants will want many of the same things. Service firms such as pest control services and bookkeeping businesses will want to provide information about local income levels, housing, and business activity.
Store design also must be addressed. Retailing can be as much about entertaining shoppers as it is about displaying goods, so store design becomes very important. Retailers may want to include photos or illustrations of striking displays, in-store boutiques and the like.
Then there's the Internet and e-commerce, where physical location gives way to driving traffic to the site. For businesses that are strictly web driven, you’ll need to show how the site works and all that's set up behind the site for taking orders, shipping them and handling customer service, which is especially important for online businesses where buyers cannot walk in and return an item face to face. You'll also need to show how you'll drive traffic to the site.


Promotion is virtually everything you do to bring your company and your product in front of consumers. Promotional activities include picking your company name, going to trade shows, buying advertisements, making telemarketing calls, using billboards, arranging co-op marketing, offering free giveaways, building and maintaining your online presence, and more.
Not all promotions are suitable for all products, of course, so your plan should select the ones that will work best for you, explain why they were chosen, and tell how you’re going to use them. Promotion aims to inform, persuade, and remind customers to buy your products. It uses a mix that includes four elements: advertising, personal selling, sales promotion, and publicity or public relations.

----------------------------STEP 6---------------------------

Writing the Operations Section of Your Business Plan

In their book Write Your Business Plan, the staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. offer an in-depth understanding of what’s essential to any business plan, what’s appropriate for your venture, and what it takes to ensure success. In this edited excerpt, the authors discuss what type of information you should include in the operations section of your business plan.
Operations is concerned with how you buy, build and prepare your product or service for sale. That covers a lot of ground, including sourcing raw materials, hiring labor, acquiring facilities and equipment, and shipping the finished goods. And it’s different depending on whether you’re a manufacturer, a retailer or a service firm.
The basic rule for your operations section is to cover just the major areas—labor, materials, facilities, equipment and processes—and provide the major details—things that are critical to operations or that give you competitive advantage. If you do that, you’ll answer investors’ questions about operations without overwhelming them.
The simplest way to treat operations is to think of it as a linear process that can be broken down into a sequence of tasks. Once the initial task listing is complete, turn your attention to who's needed to do which tasks. Keep this very simple and concentrate on major tasks such as producing a product or delivering a service.

Operations for Retail and Service Firms

Retail and service firms have different operations requirements from manufacturers. Companies that maintain or repair things, sell consulting or provide health care or other services generally have higher labor content and lower investments in plants and equipment.
That’s not to say operations are any less important for retailers and service firms. But most people already understand the basics of processes such as buying and reselling merchandise or giving haircuts or preparing tax returns. So you don’t have to do as much explaining as, say, someone who’s manufacturing microprocessors.
For service and retail firms, people are the main engines of production. The cost of providing a service is largely driven by the cost of the labor it entails. A service-firm plan, then, has to devote considerable attention to staffing. You’ll want to include background information and, if possible, describe employment contracts for key employees such as designers, marketing experts, buyers, and the like. You’ll want to walk the reader through the important tasks of these employees at all levels so they can understand how your business works and what the customer experience is like.
Operations plans for retailers also devote considerable attention to sourcing desirable products. They may describe the background and accomplishments of key buyers. They may detail long-term supply agreements with manufacturers of in-demand branded merchandise.

Operations for Manufacturers

The lead actor in manufacturing is the process of production, and the better your production process, the better a manufacturer you'll be. Business plan readers look for strong systems in place to make sure that personnel and materials are appropriately abundant. In your operations section, don't go into too much detail -- stick to the important processes, those essential to your production or that give you a special competitive advantage and be sure you show that you have adequate, reliable supply sources for the materials you need to build your products. Estimate your needs for materials and describe the agreements with suppliers, including their length and terms that you have arranged to fulfill those needs. You may also give the backgrounds of your major suppliers and show that you have backup sources available should problems develop.
You'll also need to include information on how you'll ensure a reliable supply of adequately trained people to run your processes. You’ll first need to estimate the number and type of people you'll require to run your plan. Then show that you can reasonably expect to be able to hire what you need. Look at local labor pools, unemployment rates and wage levels using information from chambers of commerce or similar entities.
Manufacturing a product naturally requires equipment. Naturally, investors are very interested in your plans for purchasing equipment. Many plans devote a separate section to describing the ovens, drill presses, forklifts, printing presses and other equipment they’ll require. This part of your plan doesn’t have to be long, but it does have to be complete. Make a list of every sizable piece of equipment you anticipate needing. Include a description of its features, its functions, and, of course, its cost.
Be ready to defend the need to own the more expensive items. Bankers and other investors are loath to plunk down money for capital equipment that can be resold only for far less than its purchase price. Also consider leasing what you need if you're starting out.

The Facilities Section

Unless you’re a globe-trotting consultant whose office is his suitcase, your plan will need to describe the facilities in which your business will be housed. Land and buildings are often the largest capital items on any company’s balance sheet, so go into detail about what you have and what you need. Decide how much space you require in square feet. Don’t forget to include room for expansion if you anticipate growth. Now consider the location. You may need to be close to a labor force and materials suppliers. Transportation needs, such as proximity to rail, interstate highways, or airports, can also be important. Next determine whether there's any specific layout that you need.
To figure the cost of facilities, first decide whether you'll lease or buy space and what your rent or mortgage payments will be. Don’t forget to include brokerage fees, moving costs and the cost of any leasehold improvements you’ll need. Finally, take a look at operating costs. Utilities including phone, electric, gas, water, and trash pickup are concerns; also consider such costs as your computer connections, possibly satellite connections, as well as maintenance and general upkeep.
These aren’t the only operations concerns of manufacturers. You should also consider your need to acquire or protect such valuable operations assets as proprietary processes and patented technologies. For many businesses, intellectual property is more valuable than their sizable accumulations of plants and equipment.

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Writing the Financials Section of  Your Business Plan

In their book Write Your Business Plan, the staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. offer an in-depth understanding of what’s essential to any business plan, what’s appropriate for your venture, and what it takes to ensure success. In this edited excerpt, the authors outline what type of information you should include in the financials section of your business plan.
Financial data is always at the back of the business plan, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important than such up-front material as the description of the business concept and the management team. Astute investors look carefully at the charts, tables, formulas and spreadsheets in the financial section because they know this information is like the pulse, respiration rate and blood pressure in a human being—it shows the condition of the patient. In fact, you’ll find many potential investors taking a quick peak at the numbers before reading the plan.
Financial statements come in threes: income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. Taken together they provide an accurate picture of a company’s current value, plus its ability to pay its bills today and earn a profit going forward. This information is very important to business plan readers.
You can typically gather information and use Excel or another financial program to create your spreadsheets. You'll also find them available in most business plan software; these programs also do the calculations.

Income statement.

An income statement shows whether you're making any money. It adds up all your revenue from sales and other sources, subtracts all your costs, and comes up with the net income figure, also known as the bottom line.
Income statements are called various names—profit and loss statement (P&L) and earnings statement are two common alternatives. They can get pretty complicated in their attempt to capture sources of income, such as interest, and expenses, such as depreciation. But the basic idea is pretty simple: If you subtract costs from income, what you have left is profit.
To figure your income statement, you need to gather a bunch of numbers, including your gross revenue, which is made up of sales and any income from interest or sales of assets; your sales, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses; what you paid out in interest and dividends, if anything; and your corporate tax rate. If you have those, you’re ready to go.
If you’re a startup and don’t have any prior years’ figures to look at, look for statistics about other businesses within your industry. The most important question to ask is: What has been the experience of similar companies? If you know that car dealers across the nation have averaged 12 percent annual sales gains, that’s a good starting point for figuring your company’s projections.

Balance sheet.

If the income sheet shows what you’re earning, the balance sheet shows what you’re worth. A balance sheet can help an investor see that a company owns valuable assets that don’t show up on the income statement or that it may be profitable but is heavily in debt. It adds up everything your business owns, subtracts everything the business owes, and shows the difference as the net worth of the business.
Actually, accountants put it differently and, of course, use different names. The things you own are called assets. The things you owe money on are called liabilities. And net worth is referred to as equity.
A balance sheet shows your condition on a given date, usually the end of your fiscal year. Sometimes balance sheets are compared. That is, next to the figures for the end of the most recent year, you place the entries for the end of the prior period. This gives you a snapshot of how and where your financial position has changed.
A balance sheet also places a value on the owner’s equity in the business. When you subtract liabilities from assets, what’s left is the value of the equity in the business owned by you and any partners. Tracking changes in this number will tell you whether you’re getting richer or poorer.
Balance sheets can also be projected into the future, and the projections can serve as targets to aim for or benchmarks to compare against actual results. Balance sheets are affected by sales, too. If your accounts receivable go up or inventory increases, your balance sheet reflects this. And, of course, increases in cash show up on the balance sheet. So it’s important to look ahead to see how your balance sheet will appear given your sales forecast.

Cash flow statement.

The cash flow statement monitors the flow of cash over a period of time (a year, a quarter, a month) and shows you how much cash you have on hand at the moment.
The cash flow statement, also called the statement of changes in financial position, probes and analyzes changes that have occurred on the balance sheet. It’s different from the income statement, which describes sales and profits but doesn’t necessarily tell you where your cash came from or how it’s being used.
A cash flow statement consists of two parts. One follows the flow of cash into and out of the company. The other shows how the funds were spent. The two parts are called, respectively, sources of funds and uses of funds. At the bottom is, naturally, the bottom line, called net changes in cash position. It shows whether you improved your cash position and by how much during the period.

Other Financial Information

If you’re seeking investors for your company, you’ll probably need to provide quite a bit more financial information than what is in the income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statements. For instance, a personal finance statement may be needed if you’re guaranteeing loans yourself. Applying business data to other ratios and formulas will yield important information on what your profit margin is and what level of sales it will take for you to reach profitability. Still other figures, such as the various ratios, will help predict whether you’ll be able to pay your bills for long. These bits of information are helpful to you as well as to investors, it should be noted. Understanding and, if possible, mastering them, will help you run your business more smoothly.
The Staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc.