How To Design A Business Plan That Works

I am constantly amazed at how many people neglect the look of their business plan. So often they are disorganized, cluttered, and wordy. You wouldn’t go to a meeting with potential investors with your hair and clothes in disarray. Your business plan is part of your first impression and should also be part of your own identity and vision for the business. Bottom line: A business plan needs to be a polished and professional-looking working document that represents the flavor and viability of your business idea in a clear and easy-to-use fashion.

Purpose of a Business Plan

The purpose of the plan is not just to have a document you can show to potential investors — it’s also a roadmap for yourself. Forcing yourself to come up with the hard data and answer the tough questions gives you a depth of understanding and focus that skimming over such “minor” topics as what separates you from your competition can keep you from experiencing. Don’t shy away from this opportunity to get to the meat of what your business is truly capable of and what it is vulnerable to.

With a document by your side that you can constantly adjust and add to, you are empowering yourself with knowledge, data, and direction. It can serve as a guide for all of those times when you need back-up, assurance, or even the way back to the true purpose of your business those times when you get a little lost. Bottom line: For a useful business document that serves as a reference for both investors as well yourself, make sure the plan has a design that represents your brand in a polished way and is above-all easy to use and understand.

Business Plan Design Tips to Help Your Plan Fulfill Its Purpose

  1. Use a Clean and Spare Design

    There are plenty of business plans out there that have the heft of a phone book and maybe the personality of one, too. Long and dense plans give off the air of something trying to make up in weight what it is missing in substance. Investors don’t want to pick up a phone book to read. You do not want to pick up a phone book to read.

    For a document that is handy, portable, and inviting, make a design that is clear, brief, and direct. Avoid wordiness that can obscure your true purpose and message. A cluttered design with ten different levels of numbered and lettered outlines, asterisks, and footnotes conveys a cluttered and over-loaded mind. A clean design with objectives and details concisely and clearly presented conveys a mind and business purpose that has laser-focus, knows what is important, and has a confident sense of itself. Bottom line: Clean design shows a clear vision.

  2. Include a Table of Contents and Helpful Headings

    Making a business plan an easy-to-read and easy-to-use document requires that information and sections are easy to locate. Use a table of contents to make your information easy to be referenced. A table of contents shows that you are an organized person and that you value the time of the reader. Within the content, use helpful headings that make information easy to find and identify. Bullet points and numbers are fine, but avoid going overboard with different levels of indentions and notations. Keep information organized and easy to follow. Bottom line: A table of contents and straightforward headings keep your thoughts organized, help you and your reader locate information, and look professional.

  3. Choose a Font That is Easy to Read

    Even if your business is arts-related, a business plan is never the time to sacrifice function for form. Since this will be a workable document, every design decision must come back to its ease of use. Fonts that look professional and are easy to read include Arial, Helvetica, and the traditional Times New Roman, Times, or Palatino. Bottom line: Choose a font style and size based on readability.

  4. Include Only Relevant Graphics

    A long business plan with lots of graphics in lots of shapes and colors does look impressive at first flip-through, but it does not encourage a reader or user to start reading or look closer. The ease with which even the not-so-savvy can create custom charts and graphs using computer programs is great, but only make a graph or chart if it meets two criteria. One, that it is absolutely relevant data. If you plan on starting a knitting supply company, then a pie chart showing the different colors of yarn you plan on ordering is a waste of time and color ink. Only include a graphic if it packs a punch in terms of conveying necessary information in a clear and concise way. Use too many graphics and the more important ones are not noticed. Use a graphic only when you are making a high-impact point you want to stand out.

    Second, be sure the graphic is easy to understand. If a reader has to slow down and think very hard about what this measurement is on the side of the graph and what the striped bars mean and that information is not quickly made clear, you have lost your reader. If you are the one using your plan, a complicated graph is not something you will ever want to revisit or use. Bottom line: Use charts and graphs only when absolutely necessary so important information stands out and only when the data and interpretation is easily read and interpreted.

  5. Use a Template — Or Not

    There are thousands of business plan templates out there, even for free. These are great resources for giving you an idea of what elements most plans include. But as they are general in nature, they pretty much include the kitchen sink. So while you don’t want to get rid of every topic and leave your plan with only an Executive Summary, your business may not need every single detail included in a template. A template is a great way to approach the overwhelming task of a business plan — it gives you that structure and a place to start. But before you start filling in blanks, think hard about what the true essence of your business and your plan for it. Get rid of any topic that takes away from that focus and hone in on those elements that most accurately will represent the spirit, financial potential and costs, and strategy of growth for YOUR business. If you are interested in using a template, you may even want to search for one that is specific to your industry. Bottom line: Use a template to give you initial structure, but only use the most relevant elements for your business.

Bill Post, Small Business Research Analyst, has been providing research on issues of concern to small businesses for Business Cards for three years. Prior to his involvement with 123Print, Bill was a small business owner himself, providing marketing and branding services to other small businesses in the Washington, DC metro area. Before working with 123Print on Business Card Templates, Bill spent several years after receiving his degree in the fast-paced corporate world. It was there that Bill not only honed the skills he uses to help small businesses get ahead, but it is also where he realized that he’d rather help the little guy prosper than make huge corporations money.

54 thoughts on “How To Design A Business Plan That Works”

  1. fazal mayar says:

    great post, a business plan is always required, its like a budget. If you dont make a budget before creating a business, you will lose money or it will fail.

    1. Yes I am also hardcore believer in proper and practical planning.

      These kind of tips will help me to make more better and perfect planning.

      Thanks Bill for providing these awesome tips to us.

      1. Kevin Kimes says:

        Business plans are good, but this post’s content has very little to do with it’s title.

        Having a business plan that looks good and is easy to read is nice, but needs to be a sound plan.

        All of these points are about design, not about substance of the plan and how it might work. A messy and hard to read plan, that’s a “good plan” will work far better than a well designed document about a plan to sell ice cubes to polar bears.

        1. Good point! John makes some excellent points about presentation, but the meat of the plan is what counts.

          Perhaps we could see another post about the meat and bones of a business plan and how what your business supplies will meet a market demand?

          I’d be very interested in seeing how John himself would have written his business plan 5 years ago, before he saw huge success with his blog.

          That would help all of us aspiring entrepreneurial internet marketers to understand how blogging and internet marketing fit into a business plan.

          1. Kevin Kimes says:

            John didn’t write it, it’s a guest post. πŸ˜‰

            John was successful before ever starting this blog, from what I gather. He was a self-titled “dot com mogul” from the beginning of this blog. That tells me he already was greatly successful before this site was born.

            However, I agree it’d be nice to see the business plan of somebody so successful – as it was written before their success was realized.

      2. Abhik says:

        Yeah!! A simple small business can go high with proper plans and resources to execute them.

    2. Business planning is the make step for success. I am agree with fazal, you missed budget. It’s really important point.

      1. Yes consideration of budget is very important in making a business plan…

    3. PPC Ian says:

      Very well said, Fazal. Smart entrepreneurs are thinking in terms of business plans. It’s the formality of a business plan that causes the writer to really think things through. Planning is the key to success.

    4. Abhik says:

      Correct.. You fist need to make a plan and set the budget accordingly or vise versa.

    5. Yes you always need a business plan…if you want to be a successful businessman…

  2. Brock Blohm says:

    Absolutely. Organization is key – especially if you are looking to get a loan. Investors want simple, clean, easy to follow blueprints.

    Above all this – I feel that asking yourself WHY you are going to do what you do is the most important. By asking yourself this question, you will begin to answer questions and make decisions based on your definition of ‘why’.
    People do not usually buy ‘what’ you do, or even ‘how’ you do it – they care about ‘why’ you do it. Food for thought…

    1. Arun says:

      well said brock, investors always wanted things to be clean and simple

  3. Statistically speaking, how many successful businesses did actually start with a business plan in the first place?

    1. The business man which are going successful always starts with a business plan…

  4. PPC Ian says:

    Very helpful tips. Writing a solid business plan is essential for the success of any business. I actually recommend writing a business plan even if you’re self funding. The practice of doing so will keep you on the right track.

    1. Arun says:

      yes you are right, i am planning to write one as i self finance my business

  5. its funny because I was just thinking about a solid business plan at the moment and I refresh the page after sometime and this post pops up,you always know the right things to say..haha..but yea this is a great post ,and glad your success enables you too help the smaller people in this blogging world.thanks John

  6. poorblogger says:

    Yes.. That’s plan is really useful for our business.
    I like the point of font. Sometimes there’s a businessman using catchy font.. It is not good coz it will make hard to understand the word. Use standard and you will become more professional

  7. p.s and a thanks as well to the guest blogger.!..

  8. stephensc says:

    Very helpful article. I will apply some tips about planning to my works. Hope this will help me works better.
    Thanks . Stephen

    1. Offcourse if you will apply these tips you will get a lot of benefits…

  9. Raluca says:

    Everyone should know that a simple format is easy to read. So if you want others to stay on your page more than a few seconds follow john’s advices.

  10. Designs will attract the eyes of users so we should make more pleasant to attract them in our business

    1. Thats a nice point…Beauty of anything always attracts…so a nice business design will always be attractive…

  11. Abhik says:

    Nice post, Bill.
    I am fully agree with all your points, but you forget to mention how to execute those plans.
    May be that’s coming in next post.

  12. fas says:

    Very well said. A good business plan works wonders in the long term.

  13. Erwin Miradi says:

    Nicely written. I agree that writing a business plan is important.

  14. Ben says:

    I have been motivated by your generous supply of nice articles that educate and inform your readers. I am always your Blog regular visitor.
    Keep up the good work.

  15. Business plan should be done before starting any process so that we can conquer an important place in the field

    1. Business plans are always made before starting..them some modifications are just added..

  16. The clean design point of the business plan was major for me. The first time I did mine, it was such a mess it was hard to go back and put it all together. Great article.

  17. I bought one of the One Page Business Plan books, and I loved the simplicity of it. It comes with templates to use (I’m not associated with this company in any way):

    I have found that sometimes people go too far with business plans. Keep it simple.

  18. Your business plan and budget must be to 100% clear and double controlled before you starting anything.

  19. Jessica Oman says:

    These are all great tips for would-be entrepreneurs. Another one: don’t rush the process! Putting together a clear, readable and visually appealing plan takes time in addition to writing all the content. It’s worth it to be patient.

  20. Amit says:

    Business plan is very important otherwise it will not get success..Thanks John for the nice post.

  21. caijjren says:

    I agree that designing a business plan is important.

    1. Yeah Caijjren indeed ..

  22. albestna says:

    I’ve seen much of this kind of website before, but this one is really very nice and helpful, you’ve done a great job. Keep them and successful for you. sign of peace

  23. Yeah designing is so important for websites,you should use relevant graphics to go along with words presented in a training. This is especially true for online training material. The graphics should not be merely for decoration.

  24. Virtual Tour says:

    At what point should you put one together, it takes a bit of time. I come up with a new idea every other day and execute on a ton of them. Should it be that you earn $5000+ then you create one?

  25. if we are starting an business its should be well planned before getting in to the work

  26. we should plan first before getting into any work

  27. we should analysis and start implementing the work

  28. Yeah you are quite right graphic is easy to understand.

  29. It’s really a nice and helpful piece of information. ,I will surely be back again to look at some other significant posts that you have in future.

  30. Erwin Miradi says:

    Well, everybody can design a business plans. But the ones that really work, that’s rare. That points above are good guide for us. Thanks

  31. Tony Moniz says:

    I agree, definetly need a business plan.
    I live by this quote ” Plan Your Work and then work your Plan

  32. Planning should be done before starting any business

  33. Essays says:

    Want to write a successful business plan? then concentrate more on, how you would sell rather than setting up manufacturing or buying department.

  34. Amani says:

    Planing is important. People who start a business without a plan or strategy is actually plan to fail.

  35. Technary says:

    Thanks for telling the importance to first plan and then execute! πŸ™‚

  36. who2india says:

    Great tutorial and step by step guide to create a business plan. thx.

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