Small Business

7 Essential Elements of a Winning Business Plan

Don't get caught up in analysis paralysis. A 10€“20 page outline of your vision is enough

Written by Romina Maurino

Coming up with a business plan is crucial when you’re starting out. The idea of putting down all the thoughts, research, dreams and plans you’ve been holding in your head for months as you prepare to launch a business may seem too overwhelming to undertake as a new entrepreneur, but the plan doesn’t have to be dozens of pages long. Some experts will tell you it only needs to fit on a Post-it note. What matters is that it provides you with a road map of what your business will look like, who your customers will be and how you’ll deal with setbacks.

“You want to make sure you understand how the business is going to work, how it’s going to work within your life, what that balance is all about,” says David Wilton, director of small business banking at Scotiabank. “A good business plan can help you think all those things through and anticipate problems before they actually occur.”

Akira Hirai, chief executive of Cayenne Consulting, a California-based firm that helps entrepreneurs develop pitches, business plans and financial forecasts, says it’s important to avoid getting too caught up in “analysis paralysis” by overthinking the details. Keep things short and simple.

The plan only needs to map out the broad strokes and include enough information to start getting feedback. “When it’s time to prepare a business plan for potential lenders or investors, less is often more,” Hirai says. “These are busy folks, so brevity is appreciated. A 20-page plan will usually produce better results than a 50-page plan.”

Regardless of how many pages you chart your course in, here are some of the key elements experts suggest incorporating:

  1. A general description of the business: What is the goal of the startup? What product will the company be selling, and what problem is it trying to solve?
  2. What’s unique: It’s important to take the time to explain what’s special about your product or service, and how it differs from other offerings in the market. Why will customers love it most?
  3. Market research: Who else is trying to solve this problem, and what are they offering? Who are your customers? How big is the marketplace, and can it grow? These are key questions because your success will often be tied to what your competitors are doing.
  4. The team: Who are the people managing and running the business, and what makes them uniquely qualified to do it? What do you have to offer as the leader, and what do the various members of your team have to contribute? Why should investors trust you with their money?
  5. Sales and marketing strategy: Are you going to sell online or will you have a sales force? How will you market your product to generate awareness and close sales?
  6. Operations: This section will vary depending on the type of business, but it should answer questions around what equipment and production systems will be needed, as well as how long it will take to produce, distribute and sell the product.
  7. Financials: Financial information will be important when the startup needs funding or a loan, but it’s also a useful projection tool that business owners can measure their progress against. It can also look at how you’ll deal with changes in the market or consumer behaviours and increased competition.

Ten pages should be enough to cover these areas. If that still seems intimidating, keep in mind that while a detailed plan is important, it’s not a prerequisite to begin testing your product. Jeremy O’Krafka, a professor with the Entrepreneurship and Small Business program at Seneca College in Toronto and the founder of, didn’t write a business plan until a year after he started his first company. He opted to follow the Lean Startup model, initially proposed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries, which suggests taking your ideas and assumptions to your potential customers before you ever set pen to paper. That way you ensure there’s actually a need for your product and you have the chance to make it better.

“You know the plan is going to change rapidly and very often, so you don’t want to put time and effort into crafting it,” O’Krafka says. “Once you have your product out there, you can learn a lot.”


What’s in your business plan? Share your ideas using the comments section below.

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