Business plan template

Free Business Plan for Online Startups

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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 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.

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.

original entrepreneur ideas

"Are you looking for a great entrepreneurial idea to start your new business?" If you are an entrepreneur looking to start a small or home based bus

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.

drop shipping introduction

Looking for a great home based startup idea to provide a secondary income (or primary, if it goes well)? Combine an eCommerce website with drop shipping facilities to lower costs and start earning from day one.

Drop shipping is a technique used by many home based and small business owners to fulfil orders and deliver products without having to handle warehousing, packaging and transport.

Instead, a drop shipping company takes care of this aspect of the business (often delivering directly from the factory), allowing you to focus on marketing and growing the store.

Fun ideas to make money

Making money online with a fun sidehustle is a dream for a lot of people even if it isn't as easy to achieve as most of them would like.

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Everyone creating a website, regardless of whether it is a blog, professional site, or shopping cart, should keep Google and SEO in mind right from the start

Whether to choose equity or salary

Deciding whether to take a job working for a startup company is a decision that can lead to fabulous riches or years of wasted effort with little to show.

In short, it's a high risk decision.

So how what factors must be taken into account when working out how to take an offer?

This article lists six questions you should ask yourself before considering any job offer - to help ensure you get a fair deal and make the right decision.

It's easy to set up your own email on a good Web hosting account

A lot of small business owners find that they need a corporate email address on their own work domain, but aren't entirely sure what is required to set things in motion, beyond needing a domain name.

And while using something like mycompany @ gmail.com might be sufficient for the first few weeks, you'll want something more professional going forward - because it promotes you better.

Also, given how much spam arrives from the free email systems, it's unlikely anyone will take email from a hotmail address seriously.

Getting great PR for your startup in the media, on social media websites and blogs is crucial to driving enough business to keep you afloat.

There are a range of skills and techniques you must learn in order to use your marketing and PR resources with maximum efficiency.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs tend to have limited budgets to spend on marketing campaigns, so it's important to identify those areas that are most likely to bear fruit early on.

In particular, efforts that create lasting and cumulative benefits such as blogging (for on-site SEO, organic search traffic, authority and PageRank) and building up social contacts (off-site SEO, marketing, business contacts) are important.

Logo design tips

Designing a great logo for your startup can be one of the most important (and frustrating) challenges you take on.

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Starting any new business (big, small, home based, whatever) can exciting and fun; but it does require research, structure, discipline and persisten

WAH with your own freelance writing job. Pic by Evelina Ander

Believe it or not, it is entirely possible to hire yourself as a freelance writer and turn that part-time job into a successful business that earns decent mo