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Design Your Plan
to Fit Your Business
Alto Software, Inc.
is about results. For every business plan, you need to make the
contents of your plan match your purpose. Don't accept a standard outline
just because it's there.
In the United States
business market there is a standardization about business plans. You can
find dozens of books on the subject, about as many Web sites, two or three
serious software products, and courses in hundreds of business schools,
night schools, and community colleges. Although there are many variations
on the theme, a lot of it still falls into the same standard.
What is a Business
A business plan is any plan that works for a business to look ahead, allocate
resources, focus on key points, and prepare for problems and opportunities.
Business existed long before computers, spreadsheets, and detailed projections.
So did business plans.
think of business plans first for starting a new business or applying
for business loans. But they are also vital for running a business, whether
or not the business needs new loans or new investments. Businesses need
plans to optimize growth and development according to priorities.
What's a Start-up
A very simple start-up plan includes a summary, mission statement, keys
to success, market analysis, and break-even analysis. This kind of plan
is good for deciding whether or not to proceed with a plan, to tell if
there is a business worth pursuing, but it is not enough to run a business
Is There a Standard
A normal business plan, one that follows the advice of business experts,
includes a standard set of elements. Plan formats and outlines vary, of
course, but generally, a plan will include standard components such as
descriptions of the company, product or service, market, forecasts, management
team, and financial analysis.
Your plan depends
on your specific situation. For example, if you're developing a plan for
internal use only (not for sending out to banks or investors), you may
not need to include all the background details that you already know.
Description of the management team is very important for investors, while
financial history is most important for banks. Make your plan match its
What's Most Important
in a Plan?
It depends on the case, but usually it's the cash flow analysis and specific
- Cash flow is both
vital to a company and hard to follow. Cash is usually misunderstood
as profits, and they are different. Profits don't guarantee cash in
the bank. Lots of profitable companies go under because of cash flow
problems. It just isn't intuitive.
details are what make things happen. Your brilliant strategies and beautifully
formatted planning documents are just theory unless you assign responsibilities,
with dates and budgets, follow up with those responsible, and track
results. Business plans are really about getting results and improving
Can you Suggest
a Standard Outline?
If you have the main components, the order doesn't matter that much, but
here's the outline order we suggest in Business Plan Pro software:
- Executive Summary:
Write this last. It's just a page or two of highlights.
- Company Description:
Legal establishment, history, start-up plans, etc.
- Product or Service:
Describe what you're selling. Focus on customer benefits.
- Market Analysis:
You need to know your market, customer needs, where they are, how to
reach them, etc.
- Strategy and
Implementation: Be specific. Include management responsibilities
with dates and budget.
- Management Team:
Include backgrounds of key members of the team, personnel strategy,
- Financial Plan:
Include profit and loss, cash flow, balance sheet, break-even analysis,
assumptions, business ratios, etc.
We don't recommend
developing the plan in the same order you present it as a finished document.
For example, although the Executive Summary comes as the first section
of a business plan, we recommend writing it after everything else is done.
It will appear first, but you write it last.
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