Planning for success: your guide to preparing a business and marketing plan

This guide is designed to help you put together a comprehensive, strategic and effective blueprint for your business — a foundation for your success!

Your business plan is one of your most important tools in planning for the future of your business. It outlines your vision, what you want to achieve and how you plan to get there. The process of putting this plan together helps you set the course for your business — preparing for obstacles, allocating resources and planning for opportunities. It’s also a living document that should be updated as your business evolves over time.

A good business plan, which includes an effective marketing plan, also presents your business case to the outside world. It is a key factor in attracting and retaining investors and is often the first document lending organizations ask to see. 

So, how do you develop an effective business and marketing plan?

You begin the process by focusing on a few key elements — first, establish your basic business goals. Then, based on sound research, determine what challenges and opportunities your business may face. Next, clearly identify your target markets and competition. And finally, consider and plan all the operational and financial requirements you need to achieve your goals.

Effective business and marketing plans are very thorough, anticipating and answering readers’ questions before they are asked. That’s why developing a good plan can help you better define your goals, ideas and plans in your own mind before you “put pen to paper.” 

There are many steps and details involved in fleshing out a comprehensive and compelling business and marketing plan, so here are some general guidelines to think about as you get started:

There are 9 key sections in a standard business plan:

  1.  Cover Page
  2.  Table of Contents
  3.  Executive Summary
  4.  Industry Description
  5.  Business Description
  6.  Opportunities
  7.  Production Plan
  8.  Marketing Plan
  9.  Financials

1. Cover Page

Your cover page introduces your company and your business idea. It should include the following:

2. Table of Contents

Your business and marketing plan should be clearly laid out and easy to use, so it’s a good idea to include a full table of contents listing all key sections, and number all document pages. That makes it fast and easy for readers to access the sections they want.

3. Executive Summary

While the Executive Summary is the first part of any business and marketing plan a reader sees, you may want to write it last. Leaving it until the end will allow you to better focus, refine and polish your key messages after you’ve finished the bulk of the work.

The Summary is ideally just one page long — two pages maximum — as it is only intended to provide an overview. While concise, it should also pique the reader’s interest enough to read the rest of the plan with an even keener eye. If your Executive Summary has done its job, the reader will continue reading and get the full story of your business idea.

Here are some areas that should be addressed in your Executive Summary:

It’s a good idea to use strong, positive language, ending with a declarative sentence that answers the question, “Why should I invest in this business?”

4. Industry Description

This is where your in-depth research and understanding of your industry will be showcased. Within the detailed description of what your industry looks like right now, you should include the following:

Now you can demonstrate that you’ve analyzed the risks and know where your business fits in this industry. Points to include here should include:

You may also want to identify weak links and/or difficult issues, and include any appropriate contingency plans in your industry description.

5. Business Description

In this section of your business and marketing plan, you describe your business and explain why investors and lenders should be interested in getting involved in your business idea. Here are some suggestions:

You may add an organizational chart to illustrate how your staff is, or will be, organized, as this sample shows:


Description of graphic

6. Opportunities

This is the part of your business and marketing plan where you promote your business concept, your vision for the future and why your enterprise will succeed. 

In a clear, concise and positive manner, base your statements on facts and address areas of interest to potential investors, such as:

When addressing these issues, do not hesitate to use as much research and data as possible to describe and promote your product or service, including:

7. Production Plan

Regardless of which industry you are in, it is essential that you demonstrate a thorough grasp of how to manage business operations in a cost-effective manner. You are offering a product / service to a target market and it takes careful planning to deliver quality on time and on budget.

This part of your business and marketing plan should include information about:

8. Marketing Plan

Your marketing plan is a crucial component of the larger business plan. Here you describe your product and/or service in detail, emphasizing its unique or innovative features. Then you outline your strategic plan for selling your offering within your target market.

Here is a list of elements you should look to cover in this section:

The market



Socio-political environment


You should also:

Your action plan

Here is where you address the four “P”s of marketing: product, price, promotion and placement (distribution). Be prepared to explain:

Sales projections for the next five years (including optimistic, pessimistic and realistic projections, as well as assumptions) should also be included.

9. Financials


The financial section of your business and marketing plan is all about the numbers. Investors are looking for accurate and understandable information that will clearly show them the bottom line.

With this in mind, you want to present your business idea as an attractive investment opportunity, so the following are some suggestions for items that should be listed in this section: 


This section is where you present the dollar details of your business via standard financial statements and charts. Include financial information in statement, chart or table format, as illustrated in the following samples.

Market Share 

Market share is determined by dividing a firm’s sales by total annual market sales.


Company Name       Annual Sales ($)
ABC Company            50,000
XYZ Company            40,000
NEW Company            90,000
RED Company            90,000
MMM Company                           25,000
Total Company          295,000


Sales of ABC Company ($50,000) account for approximately 17% of total market sales ($295,000).

To determine the sales volume of each firm, you should contact suppliers, retailers, trade associations or others who may be in a position to help you form an estimate. Other sources of information include:

You may find it useful to display market share values in a pie chart like this: 

Description of Graphic

Breakeven Analysis

The breakeven analysis determines at which sales volume your firm will start making money. The Breakeven Formula is: fixed costs (costs that must be paid whether or not any units are produced) divided by variable costs (costs that vary directly with the number of products produced, e.g. materials, labour used to produce units, percentage of overhead).

A breakeven analysis is most clearly illustrated in a chart such as the one shown below. You may use the breakeven analysis to determine how changes in price and sales level, or cost increases or decreases will affect profitability.

Description of graphic

Return on Investment

Return on investment (ROI) indicates the efficient use of the firm’s assets. It also allows comparison of businesses with different capital structures. The following formula is used to calculate ROI: 

ROI = Net Income + Interest (to remove the effect of borrowed funds) divided by equity.

Cash Flow

Cash flow reveals whether a company will have enough money to meet its needs on a monthly basis.

If you are proposing the expansion of an existing business, a cash flow statement will detail the actual cash flow for a specified past period (normally a year), so you will include the receipts or disbursements that are appropriate for your business, as well as cash receipts for each month. 

A cash flow forecast, on the other hand, will detail anticipated monthly inflows and outflows of cash for a future period of time. New start-ups would provide a cash flow forecast only. Some things to keep in mind when preparing your cash flow forecast or statement:

Recording sales — some sales will be made in cash while others may be made on credit. Because sales made on credit will not result in the receipt of cash until a later date, they must not be recorded until the month in which the cash will actually be received. Therefore, the percentage of sales to be made in cash and the percentage to be made on credit must be estimated. The percentage of credit sales should be further broken down according to the business’s different collection periods (30 days, 60 days, etc.).

Loan proceeds — when a deficit appears on the final line, the amount of the deficit will need to be borrowed. Record the amount appearing on the deficit line on the loan proceeds line; then change the deficit to zero. This shows investors when you will have a cash shortage that will require you to borrow additional funds.

Accounts Payable — accounts payable must be broken down according to your supplier’s terms of payment. For example, items purchased in January may have to be paid in 30 days or 60 days — meaning that the actual cash disbursement would not occur until March and April respectively. Accounts Payable amounts are recorded in the month they will actually be paid.

Here is a sample cash flow forecast for a six month period:

ABC Company
Cash flow forecast
Opening Cash Balance $15,000 $10,040 $ 3,440 $ 0 $ 710 $ 3,050
Cash rec’d from sales 0 900 1,000 1,200 1,200 1,800
Cash from receivables 0 0 2,700 8,400 9,600 10,800
Loan proceeds 0 0 660 0 0 0
TOTAL RECEIPTS $ 0 $ 900 $ 4,360 $ 9,600 $10,800 $12,600
Accounts payable 0 2,500 2,500 3,500 3,500 5,500
Rent 400 400 400 400 400 400
Supplies 120 30 30 30 30 30
Utilities 190 190 190  180 150 150
Telephone 50 30 30 30 30 30
Insurance 150 0 0 0 0 0
Advertising & promo 500 500 400 500 400 400
Maintenance & repairs 50 50 50 50 50 50
Wages 1,800 1,600 2,000 2,000 1,700 1,600
Salaries 1,500 1,500 1,500 1,500 1,500 1,500
Taxes 0 0 0 0 0 0
Loan repayment 0 500 500 500 500 500
Professional Fees 200 200 200 200 200 200
TOTAL DISBURSEMENTS $ 4,960 $ 7,500 $7,800 $ 8,890 $ 8,460 $10,360
SURPLUS (DEFICIT) $10,040 $ 3,440 $ 0 $ 710 $ 3,050 $ 5,290


The Income Statement

The income statement is a financial statement that reveals whether a business has earned a profit or has suffered a loss after a specified period. An income statement may also be referred to as a “profit and loss statement” or an “operating statement”. A “Pro Forma Income Statement” is used to show how things will be under given conditions rather than how they are at present. An income statement usually includes the following:

 Here is a sample income statement:

ABC Company
Sample Income Statement for (year)
REVENUE   $224,500
Inventory, beginning of year $  15,000  
Direct labour 55,000  
Materials & supplies 48,000  
Less: Inventory, end of year (12,500)  
Total Cost of Goods Sold:   $105,500
GROSS PROFIT   $119,000
Advertising and promotion $ 5,100  
Depreciation, equipment 2,500  
Electricity 3,500  
Insurance 1,500  
Interest and bank charges 7,000  
Maintenance and repairs 400  
Professional fees 2,000  
Salaries and benefits 45,000  
Office Supplies 600  
Telephone 3,500  
Vehicle and travel expenses 8,000  
Total Expenses   $79,100
Less: Income Taxes   $13,900
NET INCOME   $26,000


Balance Sheet

The balance sheet is a “snapshot” of what you own and what you owe. A “pro forma balance sheet” shows how things will be under given conditions rather than how they are. A balance sheet follows a standard format, including the legal name of your business, relevant dates, assets, liabilities and owner equity; however, it may contain additional items depending on circumstances relating to the business for which it is prepared.

Here is a sample balance sheet:

ABC Company

Balance Sheet

Day / Month / Year


Current Assets:      
Cash   $  1,000  
Accounts Receivable   400  
Merchandise inventory   13,980  
Office supplies   120  
Store supplies   3,060  
Prepaid insurance   190  
Total Current Assets     $ 18,750
Plant and equipment:      
Office equipment $ 1,800    
Less: Accumulated depreciation 480    
    $ 1,320  
Store equipment $ 3,800    
Less: Accumulated depreciation 850    
    $ 2,950  
Buildings $95,000    
Less: Accumulated depreciation 9,300    
Land   $37,270  
Total plant and equipment     $122,970
Total assets     $141,720




Accounts payable   $  2,700  
Accrued wages   3,000  
Sales tax payable   900  
Total Liabilities     $ 6,600

Owners’ Equity

Jane Doe, capital   $45,040  
Sue Smith, capital   $90,080  
Total Owners’ Equity     $135,120
Total Liabilities and Owner’s Equity     $141,720


Congratulations. You’ve researched and drafted a good business and marketing plan. 

Before you consider it finished, however, here are some things to keep in mind as you make a final polish and review of all your hard work:

And finally, remember — a business and marketing plan is a living document that you should revisit, revise and reference often as your business evolves over time.

Still looking for advice?

If you still need help preparing your business plan, call 1-888-576-4444 to contact the Business Information Services centre of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

ACOA's Business Information Services also offers a series of business plan templates.

Click here to view adresses and contact information for the ACOA office nearest you.


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