Top 5 action plan templates for small businesses – with examples

An action plan is used to break down project goals into practical, easy-to-follow steps. Here’s our top templates for designing one to achieve the perfect project outcome.

Our Research

Our expert team of writers and researchers rates project management software against the factors small businesses care about most - value for money (for both small and growing teams); depth of features; ease of use; quality of templates and ability to customise them, plus help and support when problems need resolving.
Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Our independent reviews are funded in part by affiliate commissions, at no extra cost to our readers.

An action plan is a checklist of every task needed to achieve a larger business goal, and it can help you turn your top-level strategic planning into a day-to-day reality. Action plan templates are pre-built task lists that come ready-made for short, time-bound project management, helping businesses to avoid long and convoluted workflows.

Most project management (PM) systems include an action plan template as they are popular among business owners. However, some systems lack key features, like the ability to assign tasks. Not having these useful tools can delay your action plan and can end up costing time and money – not something SMEs need in the current economy.

Best Action Plan Templates at a glance

  • monday.com template – for client service teams receiving regular feedback
  • ClickUp Free template – for freelancers working on a daily task list
  • Smartsheet template – for complex action plans with multiple stakeholders
  • Wrike Free template – for working with subcontractors outside the business
  • Asana template – for developing a short, sprint-based action plan

Alongside an independent analyst, our experts have pinpointed a range of outstanding action plan templates that will achieve a positive outcome by ensuring you meet every task on time, and to budget.

In this guide, we’ll take you through the unique features of each option as well as where they perform best (and what they might be lacking) so you can find the template that best matches your objectives.

What is an action plan template?

An action plan is a document that lists the tasks and milestones required to reach a decided outcome, in order of when they must be completed. It is one of the most basic project management methods, and is designed to breakdown your plan into the simplest sequence of steps.

Some people choose to build their action plan on basic, web-based programmes, like Google Sheets. But this can take a lot of time to set up and require a lot of complex workarounds. Having a pre-built action plan template with project management software can get you started instantly and give you access to clever, time-saving features.

Rather than planning a new campaign with multiple outcomes and deliverables, most action plans are kept to a minimum, and designed with a specific goal in mind. For example, the desire to increase traffic to your website in a set amount of time.

The most common aspects of an action plan are:

  • Tasks (description of what needs to be done)
  • Deadlines (when it is due)
  • Owners (who is responsible for the task’s completion)
  • Milestones (what specific targets you need to hit to complete the task)
  • Resources (the budget or external/internal consultants needed to complete the task)

Best action plan templates

As the name suggests, action plans are all about efficient decision making, allowing you to dive into a project as quickly as possible. Below, we’ve identified the top template choices from leading work operating systems (Work OS), including monday.com and ClickUp.

All of our top picks are based on important factors chosen during extensive user testing, such as ease-of-use, data visualisation, and collaboration features.

monday.com for teams receiving regular client feedback (agencies)

Available with: Free plan

monday.com action template

monday.com is our top-scoring Work OS for data visualisation (5 out of 5), beating rival software Smartsheet by a whole point. As the above example shows, monday.com’s modern-looking template is endlessly customisable, which allows you to monitor every aspect of your project.

During our testing, we found there was space to note tonnes of metrics, including the owner of a task, the due date, and even priority level. Plus, a progress tracker helps managers check pace in case a team member needs to push the pedal down to meet a milestone.

Because of its flexibility, we recommend monday.com’s action plan template for projects that are subject to sudden changes. For example, design agencies working to deadline constraints with clients who want regular feedback on how a task is going.

You can use monday’s customisable features to easily make edits. Our research team was also impressed by the app’s simple, traffic-light organisational system during testing, which means you won’t have to sacrifice clarity to review progress.

monday.com pros and cons

Pros
  • Assigned team members will be instantly notified - minimising time spent in meetings.
  • monday.com is third in our research for usability, as templates are quick to set up
  • Managers can easily set up an automated reminder if tasks are missed or delayed
Cons
  • User permissions only available on premium plans - so managers have less control over changes
  • No task dependencies means you’ll find it harder to prioritise tasks
monday-logo
Get the template

Get started with the monday.com action plan template

Try monday.com Download it today for free.
ClickUp action template

ClickUp’s action plan is as clearly organised and colour-coded, as with monday.com. However, the former’s list-based layout is suited to individual task management when compared with monday.com’s collaborative focus.

Your action plan might be something as simple as reaching a certain objective by the end of the day. ClickUp’s time-tracking unavailable on monday.com's free plan allows you to maximise your resources and take on as many gigs as possible while still being able to prioritise deadlines.

The ClickUp action plan template has less space to record metrics. But during our testing, we found the workflow was easier to understand as the items are numbered in the order they need to be delivered in.

We also like that by using ClickUp's multiple dashboard views, users can see their tasks in different formats handy for individual users who have complete control of their day-to-day actions. With ClickUp, you can easily switch formats to flit between table, board, and box view, while this is a bit trickier with monday.com.

What is most exciting is that ClickUp is free forever, making it the best free project management software option for SMEs. In comparison, you’d have to upgrade monday.com, Wrike, Smartsheet, and Asana if you want to use them as your long-term PM solution.

ClickUp pros and cons

Pros
  • 24/7 live support and live chat available to help new users during onboarding
  • Communication integrations including Slack and Microsoft Teams
  • Automations are available on the free plan to take care of fiddly admin tasks
Cons
  • Our researchers gave ClickUp just 3 out of 5 for collaboration - it’s better for solo workers
  • Feature limitations on the free plan include building only 100 Gantt charts per month
clickup-logo
Get the template

Get started with the ClickUp action plan template

Try ClickUp Download it today for free.
Smartsheet action template

The Smartsheet template (Click to Try) is not as aesthetically pleasing as those offered by ClickUp or monday.com. Consequently, we’re not big fans of the platform for user experience.

However, Smartsheet is outstanding when it comes to recording data. The platform’s lowest tier offers a larger number of alternative views for you to analyse a plan through. That’s more than Wrike, monday.com, and Asana. ClickUp does offer the same number of views, but there are constraints on how many times you can use them.

Users can display their action plan as a:

  • Gantt chart
  • Kanban board
  • Spreadsheet
  • Timeline
  • Calendar
  • Burndown chart

From our research, this is helpful for business owners who are working on longer projects that have large involvement, such as charity fundraising.

Make stakeholders' lives easier by sorting your achievements and objectives into various formats. Smartsheet highlights everything from individual progress to your team's overall ability to meet deadlines. This makes it easy to measure and share project metrics.

Smartsheet pros and cons

Pros
  • Finance integration means you can closely manage your project budget
  • Calendar view lets you see deadlines in weekly or monthly increments
  • Members can be assigned to subtasks in case a job proves more complicated down the line
Cons
  • Smartsheet came seventh overall in our ranking for help and support tools
  • No free plan available - you’ll need to download the action plan template as part of a 14-day free trial
Smartsheet logo
Get the template

Get started with the Smartsheet action plan template

Try Smartsheet Download it today.
Wrike action plan

Wrike doesn’t score as highly when it comes to the advanced areas of project management. When compared with ClickUp, its feature range is thin, while the internal collaboration tools are lacking when compared with monday.com.

However, our experts found the Wrike action plan template is a practical, low-maintenance option for storing files and providing guest access for free. Tasks can be viewed by anyone with access to the project. All of the other platforms on this list require you to pay for the luxury.

If you’re working on a project with external collaborators, Wrike is a good option. You can allocate tasks to team members who aren’t based in your business and they can also move items around. This USP is great for projects with multiple subcontractors, such as a small-scale construction job.

You might not want to share Wrike’s dashboards with your employers as our testing found that it's not a very attractive template to view. Projects with lots of subcontractors involved, such as construction, will reap the most benefits from its offering.

Wrike pros and cons

Pros
  • Unlimited users and guests are permitted on the Wrike free plan
  • Project message board and task comments make it simple for team members to update each other
Cons
  • Poor for data visualisation - only list view is permitted on the free plan
  • Wrike is our lowest-performing platform for help and support, scoring just 1.8 out of 5 - not great for new users.
wrike logo
Get the template

Get started with the Wrike action plan template

Try Wrike Download it today for free.
Asana action plan

We recommend Asana for action planning thanks to its drag-and-drop dependency feature, which we found incredibly simple for reallocating tasks to new team members.

If you've got lots of people collaborating on one project, Asana allows you to make changes to your plan that will reflect a team member's new responsibilities or objectives. But don't worry, this won't cause confusion. Notifications will automatically be sent to update all team members if a change is made.

If you want to ensure that one task is completed before another can start, you only need to drag a line between each task on the ‘timeline‘ view (available with Asana’s lowest paid-for tier).

There are some key tools missing from this template that might make it difficult to review progress against a deadline. Unlike ClickUp and monday.com, there is no time tracking function to measure progress. As a result, we recommend Asana’s action plan template for short, sprint-based projects.

Asana pros and cons

Pros
  • Over 200 integrations including CRM, marketing, and communication
  • We gave Asana 4.1 out of 5 for its fair pricing and scalable plans, placing it third in our rankings
Cons
  • No guest access permitted on Asana’s free plan
  • No time-tracking feature so you won’t be able to monitor how long employees spend on a task

How to build an action plan

To help you understand what an action plan should look like in practice, we've come up with the below template example. In this scenario, a pub – The Startups Inn – wants to find a way to draw in more customers during the holiday period. The pub manager decides to design an action plan to help achieve that goal.

Problem: The Startups Inn is losing customers during the holiday period, as competitor analysis has shown that customers are visiting pub businesses that offer enticing Christmas-themed deals and offers on drinks.

Goal: We will increase our average sales per week by 150%, by launching a new festive beer brand in the month of December. We will advertise a weekly 50% discount on Monday evenings on social media to support the launch.

Step 1. Set a SMART target

You should have a specific end goal in mind rather than a broad idea. In this case, the pub manager of The Startups Inn decides to sell a popular new beer brand in the pub that will excite its loyal customers and generate new clients for the business.

To keep the goal on track, make sure it is SMART:

  • Specific: clearly define what success looks like (instead of ‘increase sales', state a % increase to aim for)
  • Measurable: outline how you will measure success (ie. monthly or weekly reports)
  • Achievable: make sure the goal is attainable, not overly-ambitious
  • Realistic: make sure the goal is relevant to your objectives, industry, and skillset
  • Time-bound: set a specific deadline for reaching the goal

ClickUp invites users to set an overall goal for every plan, which you can use to track progress and view all related project information. Here's what that looks like for our hypothetical festive beer launch:

ClickUp goals - beer launch

We were able to create a SMART target for our project in the ‘Goals' section of the ClickUp back-end

Step 2. Write a chronological list of tasks you need to complete to reach this objective

This should be done as a brainstorming session by the project manager, or the entire project team. Here's an example of what kind of tasks we might need to include in a marketing plan template for our beer launch:

1. Place order for beer
2. Collect beer order
3. Market beer on online channels
4. ‘Soft launch' with customers
5. Official beer launch

During testing, we particularly liked that we were able to add task dependencies to our list of actions, to make it clear when one task (placing the intitial beer order) was critical to the completion of another task.

Step 3. Allocate a team member to be responsible for each task

ClickUp makes this super easy by allowing users to add ‘Assignees' to every task. When we clicked on the profile on an assignee, we were shown the number of tasks they had been given – helpful for resource management and getting a quick overview of all tasks a team member is responsible for.

1. Place order for beer  assistant manager, Kevin
4. Collect beer order assistant manager, Kevin
3. Market beer on online channels marketing manager, Harry
4. ‘Soft launch' with customers bar manager, Helena
5. Sales reporting  bar manager, Helena

ClickUp Assignees - beer launch

Assignees were very easy to add to the ClickUp action list – we simply inputted a colleague's email, and were instantly able to allocate them to a task.

Step 4. Set a timeframe for each objective

Decide on the final due date for the entire project. In this example, the launch date for our new beer product might be 4 December.

Work backwards from this milestone to give each task a due date. Eg. to launch a beer on 4 December, The Startups Inn needs to order the beer two weeks before (November 20). As the template above shows, ClickUp lets you add a due date to each task as a preset field.

Step 5. Share the action plan template with the team

Once each task has been allocated, it's time to share the plan with the rest of your team so they can begin working on their specific duties and communicate if there are any issues with the timeline. Make sure you go through each task with the employee so they know exactly what they are responsible for.

Benefits of an action plan template

Action plan templates are a manager’s cheat sheet to success. Using a preset template to reach your goal will speed up the planning process dramatically, providing a clear update for the entire team to quickly get up-to-speed on task progress.

Here are three more areas of project management that using an action plan template is beneficial for:

  1. Measuring progress. An action plan template will be able to give you a complete picture of where you are up to in a project, as you'll know exactly how many items you've ticked off in your checklist.
  2. Prioritisation. Action plans make it instantly obvious where a task needs to be completed. If lots of tasks are dependent on just one being completed, you’ll know to give this step critical attention.
  3. Focus. It's very difficult to lose direction with an action plan. Following the list of actions like a step-by-step guide will help your project team to remain focused and help to limit delays.

How we test project management software for small businesses

We tested 14 project management software to evaluate them in terms of functionality, usability, customer support, features, and more so we can make the most useful recommendations to small UK-based businesses.

Our rigorous testing process means these products have been scored and rated in five main categories of investigation and nine subcategories – in fact, we covered 51 areas of investigation in total. We then gave each category score a ‘relevance weighting' to ensure the product's final score perfectly reflects the needs of our Startups.co.uk readers.

Our main testing categories for project management software are:

Customer Score: external customer opinion; the feedback and ratings given by customers who have used a particular project management provider. Also, the market position and reputation a project management tool holds.

Features: the functionalities and capabilities offered by the project management solution, such as task management and team collaboration.

Customer Support: the assistance and resources provided by the project management solution provider to users, such as phone support and email or chat support.

Usability Testing: we get people just like you to test out the products to focus on evaluating the ease of use and user experience of the project management solution.

Cost Factors: the financial considerations associated with using a project management solution, including licensing fees, subscription plans, and storage and user limit.

The Startups product testing process

The Startups product testing process diagram

Verdict

  • For flexibility, we recommend monday.com. Its action plans may require edits down the line, but monday.com promises a smooth transition should anything change.
  • For freelance work, ClickUp is a full-featured choice for maximising your resources during short, day-long projects.
  • For projects with lots of stakeholders we recommend Smartsheet. You can easily review progress to give updates to stakeholders using its impressive reporting tools.
  • For subcontract work, we recommend Wrike. It’s the only app with an unlimited number of guest users, making it ideal for B2B collaboration.
  • For collaboration, we recommend Asana for its drag-and-drop template style that makes it easy to swap a project member's responsibilities around if needed.
Action plan templates FAQs
  • How do I write an action plan?
    First, decide on the goal you want to achieve. Then, create a chronological list of all the tasks needed to reach that goal. Divide the tasks between each team member (as appropriate), and set timeframes that work with your overall deadline. Finally, share the action plan with any collaborators.
  • Does Excel have an action plan template?
    Yes, however it lacks a lot of collaborative tools, such as whiteboards and message boards. These are two important features when building an action plan. Excel's action plan template tends to be used for projects that have a very short turnaround time and require a lot of communication and real-time updates.
  • What must a good action plan include?
    An action plan should display a list of tasks that need to be completed for an objective to be reached. Each of these should have a dedicated owner and a deadline. It's also a good idea to include a list of the resources (budget/employees) on hand, this will allow you to adjust the plan should anything change.
  • What are the 5 areas of an action plan?
    First; set a clear objective. Second; list all the tasks required on an action plan template. Third; allocate a team member to each task. Fourth, set a timeframe for each task and the entire objective. Fifth; share the template with your team and update them on their responsibilities.
  • What are the main objectives of an action plan?
    Action plans are used for short, time-bound projects. They require users to list the tasks required to complete an objective, so you can formulate a timeline based on what's being done and what resources will be utilised.

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Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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