Top 7 free project plan templates for small businesses

Our list of the top free project plan templates will help SMEs to streamline the planning process for maximum gain — and all for zero charge.

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.

Few business projects can succeed without a solid and well-communicated strategic plan, backed by clearly assigned objectives and effective project management.

Our experts recommend using a project plan template as a smart solution that can (almost) guarantee a good outcome. Some also come with built-in AI tools that can help to automate decisions and processes which will save you time and money when it comes to enacting your plan.

There’s no one-size-fits-all when planning a project. The right template will differ depending on your business ambitions, so it’s a good idea to shop around before you make your choice.

Top 7 Project Plan Templates for Small Businesses

  1. ClickUp Roadmap template – for long-term business strategy
  2. Asana Team objectives template – for large sales teams
  3. Wrike Complex project template – for heavily-regulated industries
  4. monday.com Marketing template – for marketing teams
  5. Smartsheet Scheduling template – for projects running for 6+ months
  6. ClickUp Content calendar template – for social media management
  7. Trello Productivity template best for sole traders working day-to-day

Luckily, the Startups team has done the groundwork for you. We’ve picked out seven user-friendly templates that will bring practical and profit-driven benefits to small business users. All of them are also free, so you won't be risking capital in the current economic difficulties.

Below, we’ll go through their unique advantages and expert elements to explain which one is best suited to your organisational or campaign targets. We'll also explain how to approach the planning stage, and what to include in every project plan template.

Want to know more about our recommended PM providers? Read our guide to the top small business project management systems

What is a project plan template?

Many SMEs rely on spreadsheets for project planning. There are even some decent templates for this available on Google Sheets – but they can also lack a lot of crucial functions and collaboration features.

Project management software provides the most effective templates for a variety of different working styles. Every plan comes pre-built, ensuring users avoid wasting time on fiddly admin and can get on with the job at hand; delivering the project.

Client-based small businesses will benefit most from a template. Each plan can be shared directly with stakeholders to show that you are working on-time and to budget – all of which will be displayed via a clear, aesthetically-pleasing pipeline.

That said, with a record number of sole proprietors found to be exclusively working from home, project plan templates are not just for big, game changing ideas. Even self-employed workers can use a project template to structure their day-to-day activities when not working a 9-5.

Best project plan templates to use

Below, we’ve gathered top project plan templates for SMEs from brands including ClickUp, monday.com, and Wrike.

All are either available as part of a free plan or a free trial. And all are designed to eradicate the common project issues that small businesses encounter including poor communication and time mismanagement.

1. Roadmap template > ClickUp

Best for: implementing a long-term business strategy
Available with: free plan

This roadmap template from ClickUp is enormously helpful for working towards a main business objective.

Say you’re a software developer that’s planning a major update to your client’s app. You can use ClickUp’s Folder tool to organise tasks based on their due date.

ClickUp roadmap

ClickUp also permits 100 users of its pre-built custom fields feature to highlight things like due dates and assigned users (monday.com does even better here and offers an unlimited number of uses). Meanwhile, the custom status tool describes the status of a task, helping to identify blockers along the way.

Overall, we think ClickUp’s template (click to give it a try) is ideal for growth-oriented SMEs working towards a specific goal.

Action
Top 5 Action Plan Templates for Small Businesses

For more templates like this, read our guide to the top action plan templates for small businesses.

View top action plan templates

2. Team objectives template > Asana

Best for: sales teams
Available with: free plan

Asana’s team strategy template organises short tasks according to their owner. Because of its more individualistic ‘assignee' column, we recommend it over ClickUp for managers in small, growing firms to monitor staff progress against an overarching plan.

Teams of fewer than five, who most likely have just one person working on any given project area, will appreciate having the ability to post regular status updates in a simplified, list format. Colleagues that are struggling to complete a task will be tagged for managers to assist.

Asana team objectives template

Asana also allows you to connect each task to a specific target so that individual goals and responsibilities remain clear. Agencies and sales teams will also like this template. It encourages team working and will prevent siloing across departments or client accounts.

3. Complex project with phases > Wrike

Best for: heavily regulated industries with set processes
Available with: free plan

Wrike’s template is perfect for small businesses working on complex projects that involve multiple project phases — such as those that need to follow precise specifications.

For example, if you’re a real estate developer, you can download the Wrike template to organise your work into six key phases: assessment, planning, design, construction, relocation, and closeout.

Wrike complex project with phases template

Wrike’s customisable folders are organised into stages so you can focus all of your resources on one phase at a time. In each of these folders, tasks are listed by their due date, so your team is always clear on what the next deadline is to work towards.

Wrike also organises each project stage into a Gantt chart view. From this, you can see the role that each task will play in a phase, enabling you to closely monitor the full scope of a project for potential roadblocks – a more visually-effective layout than ClickUp's roadmap template.

4. Marketing strategy > monday.com

Best for: marketing teams
Available with: free plan

PR and advertising campaigns often run over-budget or behind schedule. We think the format of this monday.com strategy template is a clever solution for marketing teams to avoid these two outcomes.

The template’s focus is on goal-oriented, brand-building tasks that, in a similar move to Asana, are all viewed against a clear, colour-coded timeline. There’s also a budget field which you can use as a spending tracker.

Marketing plan monday.com

Another strong feature of this template is the ability to set up text-based automated reminders. Users simply need to type in an action — such as ‘remind me when this post is due’ — and monday will notify you if a deadline is imminent.

Like the sound of these features? The template is free to try, and monday has dozens of others to choose from, too.

5. Scheduling template > Smartsheet

Best for: projects running six+ months
Available with: free trial

Smartsheet scheduling template

Time is of the essence in project planning. Similar to the Wrike project phase plan, the above scheduling template from Smartsheet uses a Gantt chart format to present your project tasks against a strict delivery timeline.

Gantt charts give you a bird’s eye view of your team’s progress. They are useful for breaking down your pending tasks into project phases.

We recommend the above template for construction firms, or other SMEs working on a long programme of work. Smartsheet has a free trial that means you can try this template for free, then make a call on whether to stick with it on one of the low cost plans.

Top 5 Gantt Chart Templates for Small Businesses

Every project has a due date. Read our guide to the top free Gantt charts.

View the top Gantt chart templates for SMEs

6. Content calendar > ClickUp

Best for: social media managers
Available with: free plan

Today’s world is all about content. Social media posts, blogs, marketing emails — all of these assets can be scheduled using ClickUp’s content calendar template.

Essentially a more attractive version of the Smartsheet scheduling template, this layout maps out the full scope of your monthly assignments including what is due to be published, when, and on what channels. Users can view the content schedule weekly, monthly, or even by year – great for planning seasonal content.

ClickUp social media calendar template

The notes feature also means you can record the amount of engagement or traffic generated by a post.

Managers can reflect on content from a previous month to analyse its impact and, ultimately, gain a better understanding of your overall content strategy. Best of all? For single users and very small teams, Clickup (and this template) is fully free to use.

7. Productivity template > Trello

Best for: day-to-day task management
Available with: free plan

Not all project plans have to be about making big business changes. You might just want a template as a tracker to keep yourself organised day-to-day.

Trello’s productivity template is our ultimate recommendation for this purpose. The kanban board layout lets you sort various duties into different columns, unlike more complicated organisational layouts like the ClickUp content calendar.

Trello productivity project plan template

Each of these columns is customisable. You can organise them by due date, client account, or even personal and business. We also like that you can choose from a range of beautiful imagery to personalise your dashboard with relaxing or inspirational scenery.

How to write a successful project plan (with examples)

Project plans are essential for keeping your work organised, on-time, and under-budget. Laying out all the necessary pieces in one place saves your team effort (and more than a few headaches) by creating a work plan that every stakeholder has their eyes on and feels accountable to.

Below, we'll take you through the project plan process in five steps. To make things easier, we'll use a hypothetical business example so you can not only see the theory, but the practice, behind building a killer project plan.

Project plan example: The Startups Inn

Business: The Startups Inn is a rural pub based in Essex, owned and managed by Joe Smith.

Goal: To increase the market share of The Startups Inn's product or service and accquire new customers.

Step 1. Establish the project goal/s

The first step to building a project plan is to establish your desired outcome. That way, whatever hurdles and curveballs are thrown your way throughout the project, every team member will stay focused and motivated on the result they want to achieve. Make sure that all project goals are SMART:

  • Specific: define success (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

SMART targets provide a useful guideline to lay out your goals in a clear and attainable format. It's easy to get carried away when setting targets, but you want to make sure you are not setting yourself a goal that has 0% chance of every being reached.

Example: The Startups Inn wants to grow its market share. It sets the following SMART goal: “Within the next 5 months, The Startups Inn aims to increase its market share by 15% in the rural Essex area by acquiring a minimum of 150 new customers through targeted online and offline marketing campaigns.”

Step 2. Clarify resources

Once you have your SMART goals determined, it's time to define who your collaborators are and what they will be responsible for throughout the project. This will let stakeholders know how you expect them to be involved, and will help you to work out other important calculations like timeline and budget (we'll get to these later).

There are some systems you can use to help make this part of the planning process easier. Many businesses choose to download a free RACI chart. The RACI format categorises project members by their relationship to a task (whether they are Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, or Informed).

Example: The Startups Inn creates the below RACI list, outlining how its four team members and their roles will play into the overall objective of growing its customer base. Here's a breakdown of what Joe's role might look like:

  • Joe Smith (Owner) is both Responsible and Accountable for the overall success of the project. He should be Consulted for strategic decisions and kept Informed about project and sales progress.

Step 3. Set your budget

Now that you know your business goal, and who your team will be, you can work out one of the most important factors in a project plan: budget.

It's important to establishing your project budget during the early planning phases (and before the spending begins) so you don't let your wallet run away from you. Knowing staffing costs and goals will let you know what resources you have available, ensuring that you stay within the initial financial scope of the project.

Example: The Startups Inn needs to set a budget for how it might achieve its business goal. It should consider:

  • Online advertising
  • Offline marketing
  • Event costs
  • Sales materials
  • Staffing costs

Step 4. Set your project timeline

Break your project goal into smaller tasks and subtasks. Assign it a start date and end date based on when you want the goal to be achieved, and how long it will take each team member to enact each step.

Depending on the project, some teams will find this easier than others. Large-scale plans with a few unknown factors might be better built using the ClickUp Project Roadmap, instead of a full-blown project timeline. That way, you can clarify the order of operations of various tasks without having to stick to a strict deadline.

ExampleThe Startups Inn has set a timeframe of five months to achieve its goal of growing its market offering. Owner, Joe Smith might start by breaking this down into month-long periods:

  • Month 1: Planning and strategy development
  • Month 2: Marketing campaign execution
  • Month 3: Event running
  • Month 4: Scaling
  • Month 5: Evaluation; the team assess the results of the campaigns and events, comparing against the initial target of 15% market share increase and 150 new customers

Step 5. Share the plan

Regardless of rank or level of involvement, it is essential that every project team member understands what’s happening, how the project is progressing, and what they need to do next.

Download any of the templates above and populate your plan with the above components (budget, goals, timeline, etc.). Then, send the finished work map to every colleague so they can flag any issues or concerns.

Design a communication plan

Poor communication is the best friend of a bad project manager. This is also a good time to establish how your team will stay in contact once the plan gets underway. Consider:

  • How many project meetings will you have?
  • How regularly will you meet?
  • Who will take and share notes?
  • What is the best tool to use to communicate with project team members?

This is where project management software comes most in handy. Choosing a tool that has a built-in team messaging tool, like ClickUp, will keep all communication in one place and dramatically reduce the risk of a misunderstanding throwing the entire plan off course.

How do I use a project plan template?

  1. Download the template from the options above that best suits yours or your team's working styles.
  2. Populate the template with the key milestones you need to hit to deliver the project.
  3. Plot these tasks alongside due dates to create an overall project timeline. Group the tasks into ‘phases' if the project will longer than two weeks.
  4. Share the template with relevant team members so they know what they are responsible for working on.

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

Project plan template FAQs
  • What should a project plan include?
    To stay on schedule, your plan should include a timeline. You should also accommodate for quality assurance, to ensure you deliver your project to the highest standard. Finally, make sure you download a project plan template to build your strategy from and save time.
  • What are the most popular project plan methodologies?
    Popular methodologies include scrum, agile, kanban, and lean. Each of these approaches offers a different perspective of your project and therefore has different benefits and drawbacks to consider.
  • Is there a project template in Excel?
    Microsoft Excel has three project plan templates, including a project timeline. However, Excel is not very functional compared to project management software. Users will miss out on key features including cloud collaboration and automations.
  • What is the best project management software?
    Our top-rated project management software is ClickUp. The all-in-one workflow management app is affordably priced, with a ‘free-forever’ plan to boot, making its impressive feature list and sophisticated integrations unrivalled in terms of value for money.
  • Why should I use a project plan template?
    Every project needs a plan to be successful, but building one takes time, which can get up getting in the way of delivery. A project template lays the foundations out for you so you can get started immediately.
Looking for more specialist project templates?

Check out our guides to the best:

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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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