If you're serious about the success of your online business, then you need to find ways to give yourself every advantage you can over your competition. One strategy that I can almost guarantee your competitors haven't tried is building a customized blueprint that outlines exactly how your businesses will succeed. The process of writing a business plan for your company can be a crucial step in getting your profits to where you want them to be.

If you're thinking, "But I'm just a one-person business working part time out of my home. I don't need a business plan," think again! Unless you want your business to stay small and to keep your day job, you desperately need a business plan. It's one of the best ways to motivate yourself to drive your business to the next level.

And if your business is still just an idea in your head and you've been wondering for months how to get started, here's your answer: Start planning! Clear your schedule this weekend, print off this article and get down to business.

What's Your Purpose?
A business plan can serve a few main purposes: In the world of banking and venture capital, business plans play a huge role for people trying to secure start-up funding from banks or investors. The better the business plan, the better your chances of landing that big initial investment.

For smaller companies who may not need to rely on outside funding to get started, a business plan serves more as a company blueprint. It identifies the company's purpose, products, market and goals, as well as the steps the company plans to take to reach those goals.

So before you start writing, you'll need to decide what purpose your business plan is going to serve. If you're writing a formal business plan to secure financing, you'll need to be far more concerned about details and format than if you're just preparing one for your own personal use. No matter which approach you're taking, though, you need to know about the seven main sections that should be included in just about every business plan.

Section 1: The Executive Summary
The executive summary is basically your entire business plan condensed into a page or two (at the most). If and when you show your business plan to others, this is the only part that 75 percent of them will actually read. For this reason, you need to make this section as clear, concise and compelling as possible.

Your executive summary should contain a few key items. You'll want to start with a brief description of exactly what your business does, who your market is and what opportunity you've identified as the inspiration for your business. Explain what sets your company apart from others in the same field.

You'll also need to discuss financial information such as projected revenues and, if you'll be using this business plan to secure financing, how much money you need and what you'll be using it for. Don't go into too much detail in this section. You'll just want to include the most important figures.

Also be sure to mention your company's achievements, including all the milestones reached to date. Even if all you've done is register a domain name, put together a Web site or file a patent application, be sure to include this information in this section of your business plan.

Section 2: Description of the Business
This section will contain an in-depth description of your company, including what products or services you sell, who your customers are, what your operating structure is (Are you a wholesaler? A reseller? A manufacturer?), the legal details of your company (Is it a corporation? A partnership? A sole proprietorship?) and your distribution methods.

This is the section of your business plan where you will identify what makes your company unique and where you'll address the following questions:

  • What are you offering that others aren't?
  • What sets you apart from your competitors?
  • Why will people choose to do business with you instead of other players in the same marketplace?

If you've already been in business for awhile, you'll also want to use this section to talk about the history of the company. Talk about what inspired you to start the company and how fast it's growing. Address the more concrete details as well, such as how much equipment you own or lease and where your office is located.

Section 3: Market Strategies
Think of this section as your marketing plan. This is where you'll want to go into detail regarding who your target market is and how you intend to sell to them. This section will contain information about how big your audience is, how fast it's growing and how large you expect your market share to be.

Some great sites where you can start this research are:

In this section, you'll also talk about how you intend to market your product or service to your target audience. Will you focus on pay-per-click search engine traffic? Banner advertising? E-zine sponsorships? How much do you expect to spend on advertising, and what sort of return do you expect from those advertising dollars?

Be sure to think carefully about which marketing strategies to include here. Don't just list off every single advertising technique you can think of. You need to realistically evaluate all the possibilities and then focus on the two or three marketing techniques that will produce the biggest return on your investment.

If you think this sounds like a lot of work just for a business plan, think again! This is the kind of legwork and research you should be doing anyway. And once you've figured out how much your marketing and advertising is going to cost, you can put together a schedule of how much you can afford to spend on various campaigns each month.