A business plan is a formal statement of a set of business goals, the reasons why they are believed attainable, and the plan for reaching those goals. It may also contain background information about the organization or team attempting to reach those goals.

The business goals being attempted may be for-profit or non-profit. For-profit business plans typically focus on financial goals. Non-profit and government agency business plans tend to focus on service goals.

Business plans may also target changes in perception and branding by the customer, client, tax-payer, or larger community. A business plan that has changes in perception and branding as its primary goals is called a marketing plan. Business plans may also be internally or externally focused.

Externally focused plans target goals that are important to external stakeholders, particularly financial stakeholders. They typically have detailed information about the organization or team attempting to reach the goals. In the case of for-profit entities, external stakeholders would include investors and customers.

External stake-holders of non-profits include donors and the clients of the non-profit's services.

In the case of government agencies, external stakeholders would include tax-payers, higher-level government agencies, and international lending bodies such as the IMF, the World Bank, various economic agencies of the UN, and development banks.

Internally focused business plans target intermediate goals required to reach the external goals. They may cover the development of a new product, a new service, a new IT system, a restructuring of finance, the refurbishing of a factory or a restructuring of the organization.

An internal business plan will often be developed in conjunction with a balanced scorecard or a list of critical success factors. This allows success of the plan to be measured using non-financial measures. Business plans that identify and target internal goals, but provide only general guidance on how they will be met are called strategic plans.

Operational plans describe the goals of an internal organization, working group or department. Project plans, sometimes known as project frameworks, describe the goals of a particular project. They may also address the project's place within the organization's larger strategic goals.

Business Plan Content
Business plans are decision making tools. There is no fixed content for a business plan. Rather the content and format of the business plan is determined by the goals and audience. A business plan should contain whatever information is needed to decide whether or not to pursue a goal.

For example, a business plan for a non-profit might discuss the fit between the business plan and the organization’s mission. Banks are quite concerned about defaults, so a business plan for a bank loan will build a convincing case for the organization’s ability to repay the loan. Venture capitalists are primarily concerned about initial investment, feasibility, and exit valuation. A business plan for a project requiring equity financing will need to explain why current resources, upcoming growth opportunities, and sustainable competitive advantage will lead to a high exit valuation.

Preparing a business plan draws on a wide range of knowledge from many different business disciplines: finance, human resource management, intellectual property management, supply chain management, operations management, and marketing, among others. It can be helpful to view the business plan as a collection of sub-plans, one for each of the main business disciplines.

Business Plan Preparation

Support services
books, portals, and other sources of written information
• consultancies
• electronic planning templates (software)
• face to face help: mentoring programs, training courses
o USA: SCORE, SBA centers
o Morocco: CRI (Centre Régional d'Investisment)
o Other countries: needs research

Resources for researching facts and figures

Internal corporate records
Free information
• published statistics on the web
• free articles and abstracts from consulting firms
• alumni resources - many undergraduate and graduate programs provide access to library and/or campus business center services as part of their package of alumni services.

Fee-based services
• marketing reports from subscription services
• archive and journal services

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Author's Bio: 

This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Business Opportunities. The Official Guide to Business Opportunities is Richard Loewenhagen. He is an authority on small business and home based business development. He also is the CEO of threes companies: One specialized in Senior Assisted Living, another brick and and mortar Martial Arts School, and a highly successful home based business. As a retired field grade military officer, he possesses a Masters Degree in Operational Research, is a Graduate of both the Air Command and Marine Corps Command and Staff Colleges, and is certified as a systems scientist (CPL) by the International Society of Logistics Engineers.

Additonal Resources on Business Opportunities can be found at:

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Richard Loewenhagen, The official Guide to Business Opportunities