1. Business Plan: Introduction
  2. Business Plan: Do You Need One?
  3. Business Plan: Describing Your Business
  4. Business Plan: Composing Your Executive Summary
  5. Business Plan: Analyzing Your Industry
  6. Business Plan: Marketing And Sales
  7. Business Plan: Your Organizational And Operating Plan
  8. Business Plan: Your Financial Plan
  9. Business Plan: Presenting Your Plan
  10. Business Plan: Conclusion

By Amy Fontinelle

A business plan is not just a lengthy document that helps you obtain financing. It's truly a thorough examination of whether your business idea is viable. Preparing your business plan in the early stages of developing your business can save you a great deal of time, money and heartache by showing you where the weaknesses in your idea lie and giving you a chance to correct them before you make any serious mistakes.

For example, in the process of putting together your business plan, you might discover that you haven't really thought enough about your marketing budget or you haven't done enough research on government regulations that will affect your business. In putting together your plan, you will be forced to examine your business from the viewpoint of the skeptical potential investor and the skeptical potential consumer, not just from the perspective of the enthusiastic entrepreneur.

Once you've completed your initial plan and, hopefully, obtained the investment or loan you were seeking, keep in mind that your business plan should be a living document. Don't just store your business plan on a shelf and never look at it again, thinking that it has served its purpose. You will want to revisit your plan from time to time, dropping some components and adding others as you learn what works for your business and what doesn't. As your business evolves, you'll find that older versions of your plan provide a helpful reminder of how far you've come. As a bonus, continually updating your plan will put you ahead of the game if you later need to secure additional financing.

There's no question that putting together a good business plan takes a tremendous amount of work. But if you do it right, your effort will pay off. (For more small business tips, see Start Your Own Small Business and Starting A Small Business In Tough Economic Times.)

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