Business plan template

Free Business Plan for Online Startups

Starting out with a great business plan is especially important for online startups (like blogs, professional sites & eCommerce stores) because knowledge and understanding rule the highly competitive Web based economy.

A great business plan can help you learn how to startup online, while avoiding some of the most common pitfalls that prevent many aspiring entrepreneurs from making sustainable profits.

A business plan helps entrepreneurs understand their business, its value offering and the market. It is also offers evidence of competence and motivation for potential investors.

In reality, the Internet is just like any other type of medium. With a good idea, proper research, an understanding of the niche and target markets, and the skills and determination to drive growth, you can be successful.

Heard about the Small Business Dream Team?

The best small business software & services (across every category), designed to help you make money faster.

So, if you need to understand the challenges posed by online enterprises then our free outline (ideal as an eCommerce business plan) is just what you need to get started.

Get started

I recommend you read through every section here on this page before putting pen to paper. When you are ready to get started, download a copy of the plan here:

Download Our Free Business Plan Template

or alternatively, if you want the ease of a "filling-in-the-blanks" type polished business plan template (that comes with hundreds of business plan templates to choose from and easily performs calculations and draws charts for a slick, professional feel), you can:

Try LivePlan

LivePlan business plan software

Remember, it's important to be prepared before you actually begin working - there is a lot of information you will need to research before being able to complete every section. It pays to know beforehand what, where, when and who you will need in order to successfully complete a plan, to the standards required of potential investors.

Even if you aren't trying to find investors, or get a loan from a bank, the act of researching and completing a business plan is a worthwhile exercise.

After completing a proper plan, you will have a much better understanding of what is required to get through launch and become operational, and how to go about it.

Business plan template

SME Pals' template comes in a pretty standard format, and is intended for small or home based online startups. But, what makes this particular plan unique is that it has plenty of links, resources and advice that will help you find the right information quickly and easily.

The remainder of this article is a copy of the download for you to explore before getting started - once you're ready, download the WORD version, and fill it in.

Table of contents

  1. Executive summary
  2. Company description & overview
  3. Products and/or services
  4. Marketing plan
  5. Operational plan
  6. Organization & management
  7. Expenses & capitalization
  8. Financial plan
  9. Additional resources

Let's look at each of these in more depth

1. Executive summary

An executive summary is read first by investors and banks, but completed last by the applicant (you).

Think of it as your elevator pitch. Once you have researched and understood every aspect of the idea/startup, it is now time to distil it all down into a professional summary.

Check out:

Elevator pitches that worked in the real world

Professional, yes. But convey your excitement and enthusiasm too. After all, people invest in other people and they want to know that you have the energy and drive to see it through.

2. Company description & overview

Complete this section with a mission statement, a list of objectives, and an overview of the market and your niche. This is especially important for eCommerce websites because online retailing is a very competitive industry, and it is hard to compete directly with the likes of Amazon.

Include motivation as to why your company is going to succeed in this market. What skills and insight do you have that sets you apart? Bloggers, for example, might want to talk about published articles or books, or noteworthy things about themselves that help to bring a unique perspective.

3. Products & services

The Internet is unusual in the sense that your product may also be your marketing. Bloggers deal in content, and content is also the way they market their blog and drive Web traffic and revenue. Unless you are starting an online shopping site, or offering traditional services via a website, then the product you are selling is information, in the form of content.

If you do intend selling physical or digital products, then describe what gives your products an advantage in the market - arguably one of the most important aspects of any eCommerce business plan.

4. Sales & marketing plan

Online marketing is a whole new ballgame, and there is a lot of research required in order to succeed in this arena. Getting your message in front of the right audience can mean the difference between success and failure.

LivePlan has a paid offering that can help you to put together a professional, well organised sales and marketing plan.

Sales & marketing plan by Live

You can also learn some neat tricks about online marketing at:

How to research the market for free with Google

Research aside, the fundamental basis of any good Internet marketing strategy is high quality content. Without great content it will be difficult or expensive to generate a flow of highly targeted, high converting Web traffic.

Your plan will need to include a content publishing strategy based on SEO and market research, as well as in-depth research into competitors, and the level of competition in your niche.

Recommended reading

5. Operational plan

Operations for online startups are generally simpler than traditional businesses. The exception is eCommerce, which requires an understanding of the entire supply chain from manufacture and storage, to distribution, and so on.

Otherwise, focus on what personnel, skills, equipment and services are needed in order to work efficiently and grow quickly.

Recommended reading

6. Organization & management

Even if this is a one person show, it is still important to understand what tasks are needed to operate smoothly.

Who's going to create content? Who's going to manage the servers? Who's going to handle taxes, invoices, accounting? Do you have an accountant, or legal adviser? What about consultants?

Remember that your local chamber of commerce is probably a great place to find out all sorts of information and advice about how to get started.

Use this section to ensure that there is a well defined division of labour and that job roles are clear and cover everything needed in order to function.

Recommended reading

7. Expenses & capitalization

Another area where Internet companies have an advantage over traditional enterprises is in startup costs, which can be very low indeed. Depending on the type of Web platform required, the cost of creating content, marketing & advertising, it is possible to get away with relative low startup and operating costs.

Be sure to think carefully about how much everything will cost (startup costs have a way of being a lot more than people plan for), what funds are being brought in, who is providing them, and what conditions are attached.

Check out some of our ideas to save on costs (bootstrap):

Ideas to bootstrap your startup

Recommended reading

8. Financial plan

Include a detailed one year profit and loss projection. This part is often pretty frustrating because it is often a thumb-suck - even if you have done your homework. The main thing to know is whether it is possible to operate long enough to start generating a stable stream of income and become profitable.

Also important are:

  1. Cash flow analysis
  2. Break-even analysis
  3. Opening day balance

MoneyWeek did a pretty good job of explaining what a cash flow statement is. Definitely worth a watch:

Additional resources

Starting an online venture is such a diverse and dynamic challenge that you'll probably end up looking for all sorts of weird and wonderful bits of information, at one point or another.

The purpose of this template is really to help owners get started. If the information in this plan is not sufficient to meet your needs, there are excellent, professional templates and software packages available (see below).

Here's a list of articles and resources that should help get you going:

What did you think of our plan? Did it help you to discover important and valuable information about your operation? What else would you like to see covered in this template? Share your startup tips and advice in the comments.

Real world elevator pitch example. Pic by Joe Penniston

Our earlier article on how to pitch big new clients touched on the importance of a good elevator pitch, and how this 30 - 60 seconds of info can mean the difference between success and failure.

I wanted to follow this up by showing how real-life entrepreneurs and startups used their own, unique elevator pitches to win new business or capture valuable publicity.

home business ideas to make money fast

Finding a way to make money quickly is really not as good as finding a way to earn a stable income in the long term - get rich quick schemes tend to be a waste of time and effort (except for the people selling the scheme).

At least that was the point of my argument with a friend the other day. They ended up betting that I couldn't come up with at least one idea that would start generating cash within 24 hours.

In the words of Barney, "Challenge accepted!"

Top ideas from university entrepreneurs

Encouraging younger people to become involved in entrepreneurship by holding business idea competitions is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to innovate our way out of the current financial doldrums the world finds itself in.

The creativity and energy exhibited by the students who enter the top business idea competitions from around the U.S. have shown the rest of us just how easy they can make it look when it comes to generating a new idea, putting together a plan, and pitching it to the world like pros.

How to earn a passive income online. Pic by John Haler

The Web is arguably the best medium from which to earn a passive income because content, software and online services can persistently drive traffic and revenue for years at a time.

In other words - build once; earn indefinitely.

The downside is that because there is this great potential to make money, a lot of people are trying it. And, with a lot of people, comes a lot of competition that makes starting out tricky. One thing's for sure; if you're not prepared to put in work upfront, forget about earning a passive income online.

Gap in the market startups. Photo by Robert S. Donovan

Being an entrepreneur is one of the best vocations in the world because it encourages you to view everything as an opportunity for innovation. And, once you have an idea, you have to challenge it. Break it down. Make it better. Throw it away. Start again. Fail. Fail. Fail. Until you succeed.

Whatever you can imagine, you can do. Provided you have the drive and determination to see it through.