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Business Plan Guidelines



Note: You do not need to follow this closely.  These are just suggestions.  Leave out the parts that don't make sense for you to answer.  Similarly, if you are using Business Plan Pro, Tim Berry would advise you to just use the sections that matter for your business.

Do you want a more rigorous approach to thinking about your business?  Check out the Duke Entrepreneurship Manual

I.  Problem Definition and Solution

            a.  What is the problem/need that the company is trying to address?

            b.  What is the company’s solution to this problem/need? Read about defining your solution

            c.  How does the solution work?

            d.  How far along is the solution?  What stage of development is it in?

            e.  Does the company have proof of concept of the proposed solution?


II.  Market Opportunity - Read more on Market Opportunity

            a.  Define the market.

                        i.  What is the market size?

                        ii.  What is the growth rate of the market?

                        iii.  What are key drivers of growth in this market?

            b.  Why this market?

            c.  What are risk factors in addressing this market?


III.  Industry Analysis

            a.       Define the industry in which the company competes.

            b.      Identify competitors in the company.  What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threat      associated with these competitors?

            c.       Are their barriers to entry in the industry?  How will the company overcome them?

            d.      What strategy will the company pursue to achieve profits?

            e.       Does the company have an intellectual property that will give it a sustained competitive advantage?  If so, does the company have freedom to operate (i.e. are there any competitors present that have similar patents?)


IV.  The Team - Read about the founding team

            a.  Who are the company’s team members? 

                        i.  What is the motivation of the team members?

                        ii.  What is their experience level?

                        iii.  What role does each team member serve in the company?

            b.  Does the company have an advisory board? 

                        i.  Who is on the board?

                        ii.  What roles do they fill? 

                        iii.  How involved will the advisory board be? 

                        iv.  What resources does the board bring?

            c.  Does the company have service providers?

                        i.  Does the company employ a law firm?

                        ii. Does the company employ accountants?

            d. Need help understanding Equity (ownership)? Check out this simulator.

V.  The Business Model - Read more on the Business Model

            a.  What method will the company employ to make money (e.g. service, product, subscription method)?

            b.  Who is the company’s target customer? - Read more on target customers

            c.  Is the business scalable (i.e. is there a limit to the number of customers that the business can serve)?

VI.  Finances

            a.  How much is the company worth?  What do the 3-5 year projections look like for the company (e.g.     proforma income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flow)?  

            b.  What do different scenarios of the company look like?  What does the company’s best, worst, and expected financial performance look like? 

            c.  How much cash is needed for each milestone the company wants to achieve?  

            d.  What do comparable firms to the company look like in terms of financial ratios?

            e. Read more in Financing


Additional Resources for Writing a Business Plan: 


Small Business Administration offers resources on how to write a business plan and starting your own company:



American Express provides advice and tips on the various sections of the plan: