Free Business Plan Template and How to Create Your Plan

Get your business on track from with our expert guide to creating a business plan plus a selection of great free templates.

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Got a brilliant idea for a new business? Now comes the most crucial part: capturing your idea in a business plan that you can easily communicate when raising finance or bringing others along with your vision.

The good news is that with an effective business plan template, you can capture all the essential details you need. We've gathered the core features of a business plan in our template, below, helping you to map out an overview of your idea, market opportunities, key competitors, and even cash forecasts.

Whether you want to run your business as a sole trader, in a partnership or as a limited company, your business plan is the document or tool that adds structure to your proposal and helps you focus your objectives on an achievable and realistic target. It should cover every aspect of what your potential firm might look like, from licensing to predicted revenue. We also recommend various free project plan templates, listed below, to help you track your business plan progress against targets.

Writing a business plan doesn't need to be a difficult process. Below, you'll find everything you need to create a concise, specific and authoritative business plan. So let's get started turning your idea into a reality.

What to include in your Business Plan

Having an excellent business plan template is half the battle won. But, to truly succeed with your vision and plan, it can help to think through a few key factors that can help differentiate your business proposition from anyone else's.

In the guide below, we explain the key things to consider about yourself, your business, the market you're entering into, and how you intend to flourish. With these factors in mind, you'll be better placed to create a business plan that considers opportunities, risks and a key identity for your business.

Who are you?

This might seem like an odd place to start, but remember, your business plan will likely be the first contact that potential investors have with your business. And they want to know who they're investing in, as much as what.

Outline your general contact details first, giving your telephone number, email address, website or portfolio, and any professional social media profiles you might have.

Consider running through this checklist to tell the reader more about yourself, and put your business ambitions into context.

  • What skills/qualifications do you have?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What is/are your area(s) of industry expertise?
  • Why do you want to run your own business?

Richard Osborne is founder and CEO of UK Business Forums, the UK’s most active online community for small and micro business owners. Osborne told us: “You need to have a really strong reason for wanting to start your own business. Having a strong, personal reason at the heart of your business model will help keep you going and give you the motivation to carry on.”

What is your business idea?

business-ideas-2021

Here, you should include your general company details. You should also give a summary of your business idea and model, answering some basic questions:

  • What industry will it be based in?
  • What product or service will be sold?
  • What demand is it meeting in today's market?
  • How will the business be staffed?
  • How will the business be financed?

One of the biggest errors that entrepreneurs can make in their business plans is not being concise enough, so make sure you keep these answers punchy and to the point.

Come up with an elevator pitch (a concise summary of your business idea). Remember – you're not writing War and Peace here!

Not sure your business idea is specific enough yet? We've crunched the numbers and come up with what we think are the best business ideas for startup success in 2022 based on some of today's most popular and growing industries.

Good example: I am opening a Jane Austen-themed restaurant in Bath, where many of Austen's novels are set. The business will sell high-quality teas and baked goods as part of a luxury afternoon tea package. It will cater to Austen's global fanbase, and will provide a memorable, personalised experience that stands out from the current market.

Bad example: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.' These are the immortal words of Jane Austen, whose books I have always been a fan of, and who is the central inspiration behind my new business idea.

Anneka Wallington is the founder and creative director at Recognised, a socially-minded jewellers. Wallington approached writing a business plan “bit by bit. I had a full-time job when I first started working on the business, so I’d get up first thing in the morning and work on the business plan. I’d then come back to it the evening. At the time I created quite an extensive document, to clarify thoughts and ideas. Today however, with a more established business, I find simpler documents more useful.”

Business objectives

Now is also a good time to think about the future of your business, and what you'd like to achieve in one, three or even five years' time.

It's absolutely fine to talk about things like target revenue or audience reach, but be careful to keep the aims SMART.

Specific.
Measurable.
Achievable.
Realistic.
Time-bound.

It can be tempting to give vastly inflated financial projections when talking about where your business will be in the coming years, but your business plan is not really about impressing investors with big numbers. Instead, it's about showcasing your knowledge of what's achievable, and working out where you'd like to be once your startup becomes more established.

How should you organise your business plan?

Project management (PM) software is a crucial resource at any stage of running a business – but it can be a particularly useful tool in the early days. ClickUp is a free project management platform that automates many of the planning processes. It can even give you handy reminders to keep you on track, saving you both time and money.

Try it today and get started for zero charge.

What is your product or service?

Product pitch

This section should clearly answer all of the below questions. Just like your business idea outline, your answers should be concise and declarative.

  • What product(s) or service(s) is the business going to sell? Do you foresee offering additional products or services?
  • How will the product be produced or how will the service be carried out? Factor in any equipment needed to make or deliver your product/service.
  • How much does the product or service cost to produce/deliver?
  • How much will the product or service be sold to customers for? What is your pricing strategy?
  • How will the product or service be sold to the customer? What is your marketing strategy? For example, will you have a shop to sell goods? Will you take online orders? Will you visit customers yourself?
  • Do you need to meet any legal requirements in order to start this business?
  • What about insurance requirements?
  • What is the growth potential for the product or service?
Potential insurance requirements may include:

Public Liability.
Professional Indemnity.
Employers' Liability.
Contract Dispute.
Income Protection.
Critical Illness.
Life Cover.
Automobile Insurance.
Office or Home Insurance.  

Potential legal licenses a business may need to purchase include:

Health and Safety.
Food Hygiene and Safety.
Intellectual Property.
Copyrights.
Patents.
Online and Distance Selling.
Data Protection.

What are the challenges?

Another relevant bit of analysis to include in this section is the impact that big issues like Brexit or the pandemic could have on your product or service delivery.

Be realistic about the risks. For example, if you're looking to start a courier company, acknowledge the potential delays caused by new Brexit regulations regarding customs clearance.

Or if you're wanting to run a service company that takes bookings, consider writing about how you plan to combat cancellations caused by uncertainty around new waves like Omicron – you could outline added safety measures or introduce a deposit scheme.

Discussing these issues won't make you less attractive to investors. In fact, it will indicate to the reader that you are aware of the challenges ahead and prepared to meet them.

What is the market like?

This section is where you'll describe your customers, explain their demand for your product/service and outline how you plan to reach them. To flesh this out, it's a good idea to engage in market research.

Market research can take a lot of different forms. A good jumping off point is to talk to other owners in the industry you're trying to enter about their business journeys. You could also run surveys to find out what the local community's expectations are for your product or service costs, and what people might think is missing from existing SMEs.

You can do this in person by knocking on doors, or online via social networking sites – it just depends on how wide you want your customer reach to be.

You should aim to answer the following questions:

  • Who is your typical customer and where are they are based? Will customers be individuals, businesses or both? Describe the profile of your expected customers. Use details like their age, their gender, what they like, where they shop, etc.
  • How many customers will your business reach? Outline the size of your market, and the share of the market that your business can reach.
  • Have you sold any products/services to customers already? If yes, please describe these sales and be prepared to show evidence of them. Have people expressed interest in buying your products or services? If so, mention that here.
  • What can be learned about the market from desk-based research? What are the industry's current challenges, and how has it been affected by/recovered from COVID-19?
  • What can be learned about the market from field research? Field research involves market testing using your prospective customers. This may include customer questionnaires or focus group feedback. It could also include selling your product on a small scale (test trading).

It's a very good idea to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of how your sector has been impacted by COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit businesses hard in leisure and hospitality, for instance. If your startup will be based in this industry, then the issues that have been created – jobs shortages; potential supply chain woes – need to be addressed in your plan.

Jonathan Williams founded self-service PR platform Briefly in 2020. Williams named ‘knowing your market' as the number one piece of advice for new business owners: “Even if you think you have a good idea for a sector you aren’t completely familiar with, chances are you've still missed something. Live and breathe your market and know what the pain points are, what can be done to improve them, and how. Then you'll have a winning formula.

What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your idea?

Entrepreneur businesswoman

In business jargon, this is called a SWOT analysis. It should be a staple for entrepreneurs starting a new business. Ask yourself:

  • What are your business’s strengths? What gives your business an advantage over the competition?
  • What are your business’s weaknesses? What places your business at a disadvantage compared to the competition?
  • What are the main opportunities available to your business? What people, assets or connections can your business use to its advantage?
  • What are the main threats to your business? What aspects of your environment or competition may hinder your success?

Who is your competition?

Competition

Knowing your competitors is vital to any business and sales strategy. Where are they located, and how do they compare to your company? Search the internet for your competition. If applicable, search around your physical location as well.

Your competitors will take two forms, either direct or indirect.

  • Direct Competitors
    Those selling the same or similar products or services. For a coffee shop, direct competitors would be other coffee shops.
  • Indirect Competitors
    Those selling substitute or alternative products or services. For coffee shops, indirect competitors sell food or drink and have seating. Examples could be bubble tea shops or pubs.

Knowing your competitors can help you to work out how to price your product, where to attract customers from, and other important data that will help to inform and strengthen your business idea.

Table of competitors

Below is an example of a table that you can use to compare competitors.

 Company ACompany BCompany C
Name
Location
Size
Product/service offering
Pricing
Strengths
Weaknesses

What is your cost forecast?

Start-up costs encompass more than just the cost of the physical items necessary for your business. But don't worry – all of your considered costs can be put into one easy-to-read document called a cash forecast. 

This should outline your spend per month, showing your estimated spend, your actual spend, and the difference between.

It's helpful to measure not just your sales forecast (how much money comes in), but also any cash coming out, such as staff wages or supplier payments. There are also operating expenses, such as advertising or bank fees, to add into the equation.

You can see what each monthly sheet should include in the example below:

Incoming cash forecast

 EstimateActualDifference
Cash sales£££
Customer account collections£££
Loans£££
Interest income£££
Other£££
Other£££
Total (£)£££

Outgoing cash forecast

 EstimateActualDifference
Product/service costs£££
Payroll taxes + benefits£££
Owner salary£££
Staff wages£££
Suppliers£££
Other£££
Loan repayments£££
Total (£)£££

Operating expenses

 EstimateActualVariance
Account fees£££
Advertising£££
Bank fees£££
Subscriptions£££
Insurance£££
Internet£££
Licenses/permits£££
Office supplies£££
Postage/shipping£££
Professional services£££
Rental fees£££
Subcontractors£££
Travel£££
Utilities£££
Web domain and hosting£££
Other£££
Total (£)£££

Another important step when calculating your cost forecast is to work out your personal survival budget.

Essentially, this figure is based on your monthly income and expenses, as well as recent bank statements. From this, you can work out what you need to earn from your business in order to live, so that you know the minimum amount of money that your total monthly cash forecast should add up to.

Best Free Business Plan Templates for Project Tracking

Having a business plan all mapped out in your head is great – but you're going to need to communicate, visualise and track your plan as you progress against key tasks and objectives. This can all feel like a lot of work to set up from scratch, which is why we've picked out a few great free templates below.

Each of the below templates requires you to set up an account with the respective tool – the good news is this is either completely free or free for a taster trial. This means you can try one or more templates at zero cost, and get a feel for which suits your style of working best.

1. Simple Project Management (by ClickUp)

This is an ideal business plan template for small teams or sole traders starting out. It's completely free to sign up to use ClickUp, but this user friendly project management software also comes loaded with dozens of high quality templates for you to try out.

Spaces ClickUp

You can fit your business plan into a ready-to-go ClickUp template for an easy overview of your main objectives, timeframes and responsible stakeholders (even if that's just you on your own, initially!). Thanks to ClickUp's clever tools, you can change the view easily to see the same tasks from a different view, or customise the business plan to make it completely personal to your needs.

For example, you can set up your business plan by due date, responsible stakeholder, or order of priority.

Give it a go for yourself by trying ClickUp for free – if this template doesn't suit your business plan, you'll find many more available.

2. Project Launch Plan (by Smartsheet)

If you're comfy using Excel or Google Sheets, then Smartsheet is a fantastic tool to take your spreadsheet-planning to the next level. Some business plans will fit a spreadsheet template better than anything else, and the superb functions that Smartsheet gives you makes it ideal for a business plan for a small team.

Smartsheet Project Launch Plan Template

We'd recommend the Smartsheet template to a business that has a small or growing team in place at launch. The functionality means you need to be a bit more tech savvy, perhaps, than with tools such as ClickUp or monday (see below), but there's nothing intimidating about Smartsheet's templates.

Using this template, you can easily drop in the key deliverables, target dates, responsible parties and overall business objectives for your business launch. This is a tool that can grow with you as your business grows, too – new KPIs, changing priorities or added team members can all be accommodated with ease.

There's no free tier with Smartsheet, but you can use this template via the free trial to give it a go, and the software is good value on the paid plan, too.

3. Single Project (by monday)

Not everyone will want to squeeze their business plan into spreadsheet rows and cells, or struggle with formatting the perfect Word document. If a simple, colour coded view of your plan, key tasks and deadlines sounds like what you're after, then monday.com has some of the best templates around.

monday single project template

For small teams or individual users who want to focus more time getting on with running their business, and less time with complex planning documents, monday.com offers some dream templates to make life easier.

You can try monday.com's templates for free to see just how easy it can be to drop your business plan into. There's a small monthly fee for the full monday plan, but the platform can pay for itself tenfold by becoming part of the backbone of how you organise your ongoing business planning. Monday's templates can be customised with ease.

If your plan doesn't fit into the out-of-the-box template, you'll find it a breeze to adjust the way that core aims and KPIs are tracked and measured, or how day-to-day tasks are assigned and completed by your team.

Startups.co.uk can help your business succeed

At Startups.co.uk, we're here to help small UK businesses to get started, grow and succeed. We have practical resources for helping new businesses get off the ground – use the tool below to get started today.

What Does Your Business Need Help With?

Next steps

Designing a business plan is very important for laying the foundation of your business. Ensure you spend an appropriate amount of time filling it out, as it could save you many headaches further down the line.

Once your plan is complete, you'll then be ready to look at other aspects of business set-up, such as registering your company. Sound daunting? Don't worry!

Our experts have pulled together a simple, comprehensive guide on How to Start a Business in 2022, which will tell you everything you need to know to put your new plan into action.

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Helena Young
Helena Young Senior Writer

Helena "Len" Young is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has also previously written for a popular fintech startup.

Included in her topics of interest and expertise are tax legislation, the levelling up agenda, and organisational software including CRM and project management systems. As well as this, she is a big fan of the films of Peter Jackson.

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