Business plans have certainly changed throughout the years. Not too long ago, a business plan required you to spend hours doing market research and slowly plotting out your business trajectory. You would have to take data from several sources and do your own legwork. Now you don’t necessarily have to do all that work to put together a business plan. In fact, many entrepreneurs entirely dispense with the idea of a business plan, while others prioritize flexibility and the ability to pivot instead of sticking to a script.
Regardless of how you intend to create your business plan, having one – or at least a rough sketch – is an essential step toward success. Business plans are a road map for how the business should grow and develop over time. A business needs to have a clear-cut direction; otherwise, it becomes impossible to make decisions that lead the company to achieve its goals.
Using tools and resources to develop business plans gives owners an edge, since it allows them to tap into the general knowledge in the field. From the tried-and-true deep dive into the industry to simple, one-page documents that outline the essentials, business plans can take many forms. Here, 19 members from YEC share their favorite tools and strategies for drawing up those business plans, no matter the style.
1. Lean Canvas
“My favorite tool for building out a business plan has nothing to do with software. It’s a simple one-sheet template called Lean Canvas. Instead of getting bogged down in details and analysis paralysis, Lean Canvas offers a high-level view of the main risks the business faces, as well as areas of opportunity. It’s a blueprint that can always be referred back to, to guide more granular plans.” ‒ Matt Diggity, Diggity Marketing
“I enjoy using Slidebean to create a deck first. They have a ton of pitch deck templates from famous startups. You can use them as inspiration for flow and storytelling. Most investors don’t need a traditional comprehensive business plan, but it’s still good to have one. I start with making a deck to hit the main points, and then I can create a detailed business plan using the deck as an outline.” ‒ Christopher Seshadri, PhotoSesh
“I’m a teamwork kind of guy, so that’s why for me lately it’s been Lunchclub. It’s fantastic. It matches you with people fitting for you, your expertise and situation. I met amazing individuals and made plans with them. Some projects are already halfway to going live. That’s what happens when passionate people interested in the same project make plans.” ‒ Joey Bertschler, dorfnetz.li
“My favourite is LivePlan. It’s only around $20 per month and it makes it easy to forecast, budget and track the performance of a small business. It’s a great starting point. You can set goals and define your key performance indicators, and it really helps to develop an overall picture of what you’re trying to accomplish.” ‒ Amine Rahal, IronMonk Solutions
5. A trusted mentor
“It helps to use a mentor you trust to guide you in making a business plan you feel confident about. It doesn’t need to be 100 pages long and go into detail about things that investors won’t care about. A mentor with experience can help you create a plan that works for your specific business and pushes you in the right direction.” ‒ Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms
6. The Lean Startup approach
“This may sound counterintuitive, but the Lean Startup approach of figuring out how to put a prototype in front of a few customers within a one-week sprint is the absolute best tool I’ve used to create a business plan. This gets you talking to your customers from day one, quickly validating your hypothesis (or invalidating it). Additionally, the customers will give you so many ideas!” ‒ Cody Candee, Bounce
7. The Scrum method
“We live in an exciting age where our hard work can be much smarter. Staying free of business plans that serve to obscure productivity instead of cultivating it is key. The Scrum method can help you create a modern business plan that is simple, measurable and easily updatable. Any plan without these three elements is likely outdated and cumbersome.” ‒ Reuben Yonatan, SaasList
8. Other business plans
“Study other plans. The quickest way to know what works is to learn what doesn’t. Gather business plans you have read and found worthwhile, and determine what aspects of the plan you saw as most valuable. From there, focus on expanding these areas of your plan. Don’t worry about the length; it is the clarity and content that matters most initially.” ‒ Matthew Podolsky, Florida Law Advisers, PA
9. Business Model Canvas
“The Business Model Canvas is ideal for startups, since it doesn’t require that you have a history of operations in order to plan. It’s designed to be continually updated as you talk to customers, learn and validate or invalidate your assumptions.” ‒ Keith Shields, Designli
10. Industry websites and associations
“Many industry-related websites and associations offer business plan templates. My advice would be to look at one in your market or industry, and use those templates as a foundation. They’ll help you build a solid first draft while showing you where you need expert outside help. Depending on the resource, they may also have referrals to that expert help, making it even easier to get it all done.” ‒ Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster
11. A SWOT analysis
“Running a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis is crucial. It’s a really good way to get a quick and smart view of the market, and if your prospective solution has a chance in the marketplace. One hour of work on a good SWOT will save you thousands of hours of pivot and regret in the future.” ‒ Nicole Munoz, Nicole Munoz Consulting Inc.
12. Google Suite
“Google Suite is a great option. No need to overcomplicate things. Google Docs, Slides and Sheets are great free tools for building your business plan. They all have excellent collaboration features so you can brainstorm with others while building out your business plan.” ‒ Dave Nevogt, Hubstaff
13. Microsoft Word
“Keep it simple. For example, Microsoft Word offers a dozen marketing plan templates that are perfect for creating a professional, accessible and affordable business plan. Importantly, the templates are flexible enough to accommodate even the most unique and creative business. They also encourage you to create a clear picture of what your business is, where it is now and where’d you like it to go.” ‒ Shu Saito, SpiroPure
“With so many great business ideas out there, your presentation deck can be nearly as important as your idea itself. For about $200, entrepreneurs can get their decks professionally designed on 99designs.com to nail that first impression. I shared my favorite ’99designers’ with three classmates before the Wharton Business Plan Competition. Out of nearly 100 entries, they all made the top eight.” ‒ Andrew Pietra, Qorum Inc.
“MindMup is a great tool for mind mapping and brainstorming new ideas. I use it all the time, and have saved several ideas and business plans for future use. Even if you don’t go live with your new business idea, it’s still a great platform for planning your content creation and marketing efforts.” ‒ Zac Johnson, Blogger
“Drawing a business plan can be tiresome and requires sound business-writing skills. There are many tools out there, but choose one that makes your task a lot easier. I personally use Bizplan by Startups.com. It’s a great tool that walks me through the process with some educational videos. There are, in fact, 650 videos, plus you get direct access to the experts.” ‒ Vikas Agrawal, Infobrandz
17. Y Combinator
“If you’re short on time but don’t want to miss out on writing a business plan, consider using a tool like Enloop. You fill in some information, and it automatically generates your plan for you. You can collaborate on it with your co-founders or leadership team so you can all contribute. Enloop also gives your plan a score based on best practices, so you can improve it by editing it over time.” ‒ Josh Kohlbach, Wholesale Suite
19. A legal pad and pen
“A business plan doesn’t have to be 100 pages long, so I like to use a legal pad and pen to draft and complete my business plans. It’s a quick and informal way to get a business model, target markets and revenue streams into a plan without spending a ton of time on useless projections and models.” ‒ Kristin Kimberly Marquet, Marquet Media LLC