The Top 4 Types of Business Plans Not all business plans looks the same. Here's how to customize your plan to your specific goals.
This is part 3 / 11 of Write Your Business Plan: Section 1: The Foundation of a Business Plan series.
When it comes to writing a business plan, one style does not fit all.
Different industries require different plans. A retailer isn't much like a manufacturer, and a professional services firm isn't much like a fast-food restaurant. Each requires certain critical components for success—components that may be irrelevant or even completely absent in the operations of another type of firm.
For example, inventory is a key concern for both retailers and manufacturers. Look at Walmart, one of the great all-time success stories in retail. Expert, innovative management of inventory is an integral part of its success. Any business plan that purported to describe the important elements of these businesses would have had to devote considerable space to telling how the managers planned to manage inventory.
Contrast that with a professional services firm, such as a management consultant. A consultant has no inventory whatsoever. Their offerings consist entirely of the management analysis and advice they can provide. They don't have to pay now for goods to be sold later or lay out cash to store products for eventual sale. The management consultant's business plan, therefore, wouldn't have a section on inventory or its management, control, and reduction.
This is one obvious example of the differences among plans for different industries. Sometimes, even companies in more closely related industries have significantly different business plans. For instance, the business plan for a fine French restaurant might need a section detailing how the management intends to attract and retain a distinguished chef. At a restaurant catering to the downtown lunchtime crowd, you might devote much plan space to the critical concern of location and quick turnaround of diners with very little about the chef.
You want your plan to present yourself and your business in the best, most accurate light. That's true no matter what you intend to use your plan for, whether it's destined for presentation at a venture capital conference or will never leave your office or be seen outside internal strategy sessions.
When you select clothing for a momentous occasion, odds are you try to pick items that will play up your best features. Think about your plan the same way. You want to reveal any positives your business may have and ensure they receive due consideration.
Business plans can be divided roughly into four distinct types: Mini-plans, presentation plans or decks, working plans, and what-if plans. Each plan requires different amounts of labor, not always with proportionately different results. A more elaborate plan is not guaranteed to be superior to an abbreviated one. Success depends on various factors and whether the right plan is used in the right setting. For example, a new hire may not want to read the same elaborate version that might be important to a potential investor.
The mini-plan is preferred by many recipients because they can read it or download it quickly to read later on their iPhone or tablet. You include most of the same ingredients that you would in a longer plan, but you cut to the highlights while telling the same story. For a small business venture, it's typically all that you need. For a more complex business, you may need a longer version.
Related: How To Write A Business Plan
The Presentation Plan
PowerPoint presentations changed how many, if not most, plans are presented. And while the plan is shorter than its predecessors, it's not necessarily easier to present. Many people lose sleep over an upcoming presentation, especially one that can play a vital role in the future of your business. However, presenting your plan as a deck can be very powerful. Readers of a plan can't always capture your passion for the business, nor can they ask questions when you finish. In 20 minutes, you can cover all the key points and tell your story from concept and mission statement through financial forecasts.
Remember to keep your graphics uncluttered and to make comments to accentuate your ideas rather than simply reading what is in front of your audience. While a presentation plan is concise, don't be fooled. It takes plenty of planning. The pertinent questions—Who? What? Where? Why? When? and How?—need to be answered.
The Working Plan
A working plan is a tool to be used to operate your business. It is long on detail but cshort on presentation. As with a mini-plan, you probably can afford a somewhat higher degree of candor and informality when preparing a working plan.
In a presentation plan, you might describe a rival as "competing primarily on a price basis." But in a working plan, your comment about the same competitor might be, "When is Jones ever going to stop this insane price-cutting?"
A plan intended strictly for internal use may also omit some elements that you need not explain to yourself. Likewise, you probably don't need to include an appendix with resumes of key executives. Product photos are also unnecessary. Internal policy considerations may guide the decision about including or excluding certain information in a working plan. Many entrepreneurs are sensitive about employees knowing the precise salary the owner takes home from the business.
Related: 12 Reasons You Need A Business Plan
To the extent such information can be left out of a working plan without compromising its utility, you can feel free to protect your privacy. This document is like an old pair of khakis you wear to the office on Saturdays or that one ancient delivery truck that never seems to break down. It's there to be used, not admired.
The What-If Plan
When you face unusual circumstances, you need a variant on the working plan. For example, prepare a contingency plan when you are seeking bank financing. A contingency plan is a plan based on the worst-case scenario that you can imagine your business surviving—loss of market share, heavy price competition, defection of a key member of your management team. A contingency plan can soothe the fears of a banker or investor by demonstrating that you have indeed considered more than a rosy scenario.
Your business may be considering an acquisition, in which case a pro forma business plan (some call this a what-if plan) can help you understand what the acquisition is worth and how it might affect your core business. What if you raise prices, invest in staff training, and reduce duplicative efforts? Such what-if planning doesn't have to be as formal as a presentation plan. Perhaps you want to mull over the chances of a major expansion. A what-if plan can help you spot the increased needs for space, equipment, personnel, and other variables so you can make good decisions.
What sets these kinds of plans apart from the working and presentation plans is that they don't necessarily describe how you will run the business. They are essentially more like an addendum to your actual business plan. If you decide to acquire that competitor or grow dramatically, you will want to incorporate some of the thinking already invested in these special purpose plans into your primary business plan.
If you are looking for extra guidance with an industry-specific business plan, you can visit Bplans.com to access over 500 free real-world business plan examples from a wide variety of industries to guide you through writing your own plan. If you're looking for an intuitive tool that walks you through the plan writing process, you can try LivePlan. It includes many of these SBA-approved business plan examples and is especially useful when applying for a bank loan or outside investment.