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Apr 27, 2011 - 3 minute read - Comments - business planning

Business Plan Templates, Samples & Outlines

Many people’s first instinct when starting the business planning process is to find a template, outline or sample plan that they can copy to create their own business plan. A quick Google search will show that there are thousands of these templates on the internet. Like anything on the internet, there is a large variation in the quality of these plans. So how do you know which one to use as a guide? With the large volume of templates out there, it is obviously impossible for me to review them all but here are some guidelines you can follow to make sure that you wind up with a better plan in the end.

  1. If you’ve chosen to use a template, you will need to learn about functional business areas like marketing and finance. You will need to write intelligent, educated content in each section of the plan and this is impossible without an understanding of each functional area. This is actually the biggest benefit of using a template and writing the plan yourself. It will get you to learn and think about all areas of your business, which will leave you better prepared once you actually begin operations.

  2. Don’t follow the template exactly as it is written. Whoever created the template did so for his or her business, not yours. Use the template to see what types of things should be included in your business plan but there will be sections that you should add or delete to suit your circumstances.

  3. Look at a sample plan for the outline only and ignore the content. The content may not apply to your business. It may be poorly written. If you blindly copy this text into your own plan it might not make sense in the context of your business and your banker will think that you don’t know what you are doing.

  4. Most business plan templates are Word documents, which don’t include pro forma financial statements. There are Excel spreadsheet financial models available on the internet but my comments about quality and appropriateness apply to these as well. One particular thing to pay attention to is the country the spreadsheet was designed for. Accounting is treated a bit differently from country to country so I wouldn’t use U.S. pro forma statements for a Canadian business plan, for example. Excel sheets will be more difficult to modify to your own particular situation but again, you will learn a lot things that will be useful later on.

The bottom line is that a business plan template can be useful in guiding you through the planning process but it is no substitute for understanding business concepts. You will need to know what you are doing if you are going to have a successful outcome. If you want to have a look at one, download this free general business plan template.