It seems obvious that a business plan is a much needed component for any business to succeed. Whether forming a new business or growing an existing one, a business plan provides a map for success. Far too many entrepreneurs start a business without a well thought out, researched and written plan to guide them along the way.

So what exactly do you need to include in creating a professional business plan that people will take seriously?

1. Company Overview – what type of business is it? What products and services are offered and will any of the offerings change as the business evolves and grows?

2. Industry Overview – what is the market like? How big is it and how is it evolving? What are the prospects, trends and expectations in the industry?

3. Competitive Analysis – who are your competitors and what are each of their key strengths and weaknesses? How will you compete? What will separate your company from the rest? What is your expected share of the market in the first year? Map out the expectations for the first five years at least.

4. Target Customers – who are your potential customers? What is the demographic for your perfect client? What needs do they have that are not being met? What motivates them to purchase the products and services you offer?

5. Marketing Plan – how will you target your customer base? What specific marketing tactics and advertising programs do you expect to institute? How will you utilize social media platforms? What is your pricing based on and how does it compare to your competitors? How will you brand yourself and close the marketing loop? A detailed, specific plan, including the expected costs associated with your entire marketing plan must be included.

6. Organizational Structure – who is your team and what positions do you plan to add in order to execute your business plan? What is the specific structure of your company? If it is a corporation then it will be different from a sole proprietorship. Spell it out. Will you have advisors or consultants guiding your company through various steps? Will you outsource any component of your business?

7. Operations Plan – what is your detailed plan of action? How will you go from where you are now to where you want to be after year one? Year three? Year five? What are the milestones you must hit to achieve your goals?

8. Financial Strategy – how much capital is required to fund your business and what are the sources funding it? Do you need investors? Will you be selling a stake in the company? What is your cost to open your doors? What are your projected operating costs, revenue and profits from year one through year five?

Many prospective business owners are intimidated by the prospect of making a business plan but it is an important first step in creating the foundation for any new venture. If you search for “business plan template” online, you will find endless resources that will assist you in creating a professional business plan from scratch that you can share with your allies as you begin your new company or plan to grow your existing one.