Business plans can be long and complex, but they don’t have to be. In fact, a one-page business plan can often be better and more powerful than a traditional plan. Writing a one-page plan is also a useful exercise because it forces you to think critically about your business and get right to the point of what you’re doing.

Of course, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t create a standard business plan. You should. But a one-page plan does have some advantages a standard plan doesn’t have.

The one-page business plan:

– Enables prospective investors and partners to quickly understand your business idea. Serves as a type of pitch document for your business, much like a beefed-up elevator pitch.

– Serves as a type of pitch document for your business, much like a beefed-up elevator pitch.

– Offers an approachable way to get your business plan in front of the right people in the form of a single sheet of paper, a single PowerPoint slide or a simple copy-and-paste email.

– Delivers a powerfully succinct message, enabling you to grab your audience’s attention and spur them to action.

– Forces you to condense your thoughts and explain yourself clearly. There’s no room to fudge or hide behind a torrent of words and numbers.

So, what do you need in your one-page plan? It’ll follow the same basic structure as a standard business plan but with certain aspects highlighted and others either shortened or omitted. We’ll take this piece by piece, focusing on the elements of a traditional business plan that you should also include in a one-page plan.

Summary

Write one or two sentences about ONE of the following:

• Business concept
• Current situation
• Key success factors
• Financial situation/needs

In a one-page plan, you want to pick just one of those areas to discuss. Focus on the area that matters for your situation. For instance, if you are writing a plan to seek investors, zero in on the area that will impress them the most.

For example, do you have an amazing team lined up to work with you, but you need money to get started? Talk up your collective expertise as justification for why investors should buy into your operation. Is your business model truly disruptive? Demonstrate why it is and how your audience will benefit from it. If this isn’t your first business plan, explain why this business will be different from the last one you started—and what you’ve learned from experience that you’ll put into place this time.

In another scenario, if you’re revising a business plan for, say, a new year, talk about three or four things you’ll do differently this year to drive revenues, deliver value for your audience, or otherwise improve profitability. Or if you are writing an internal plan, concentrate on the situation that is most critical, needs the most attention or cries out for change.

In a standard business plan, you’d move from the summary to a “vision” section, but skip that in the one-pager and move to market analysis.

Market Analysis

Include a couple of sentences about:

• Primary target market segment
• Customers in target market
• Customer needs in target market

In your one-page plan, you need to focus almost exclusively on the segment of the market you plan to target. Leave the macro market information for a standard plan. Describe your market niche, keeping in mind that the more specific the target market, the better.

Also, save a few words for how you plan to differentiate your product when going after your target customer base (and note for the record that price is rarely an effective differentiator on its own).

Competitive Analysis

Write no more than two or three sentences about:

• Competitive products/services
• Opportunities
• Threats and risks

In your shorter plan, zero in on answering a few questions: Which products and services are most competitive to yours? Where will your product or service have the greatest opportunities? Where will you face the most serious threat? Remember to keep your answers short and to the point.

Strategy

Focus a couple of sentences on:

• Key competitive capabilities
• Key competitive weaknesses

This where the brevity of a one-page plan becomes both difficult and useful. What you need to do here is crystalize why your business is going to be different from that of your competitors. It will be difficult to shave this section down into just a few sentences, but by doing so you’ll not only have a clearer idea of what you’re doing (and whether or not it makes sense), you’ll also potentially have a great elevator pitch.

Remember to focus on why your differentiation will matter to customers and to your audience. This has to be painfully clear and succinct. If it isn’t, rethink and do it again—or rethink your whole business model.

Products and Services

Write a sentence or two on:

• Positioning of products/services
• Competitive evaluation of products/services

Here again, you’ll want to lay off detailed descriptions and focus on differentiation. (That’s really a combination of “positioning” and “competitive evaluation.”) The point here is not get into deep technical detail—there’s no room for that—but to talk about what you’re bringing to market that nobody else is.

Marketing and Sales

Write a sentence or two on ONE of these, whichever is stronger:

• Marketing strategy
• Sales tactics

In your shorter plan, you’ll need to practice some discipline and focus on the one marketing or sales method that’ll be your calling card. Don’t scatter-shoot too much, even if you’re planning a multi-pronged approach; focus the bread-and-butter effort that’s going to drive the most results. Is it publicity? A top-notch sales force? Inbound marketing via the Internet? Describe what you’re going to do and—more importantly—how it’s going to generate revenue.

Operations

Write one or two sentences about ONE or TWO of the following, whichever is strongest or most relevant:

• Key personnel
• Organizational structure
• Human resources plan
• Product/service delivery
• Customer service/support
• Facilities

Take a look here at what might not necessarily be obvious. What are one or two things about your operations that will give you a competitive advantage? Great employees? Truly exceptional customer service? A state-of-the-art facility? Talk about those things. Again, play to your strengths, and stay focused. Just make sure that whatever it is will be a genuine differentiator for your business.

Alternatively, you might be talking to a potential partner or investor about an operational need. Is there a piece of equipment you require but don’t have? A job you need to fill with a great candidate? Put it in your one-page plan.

Financials

Keep this section tightly focused on:

• Profit and loss projection

And only include if absolutely necessary (possibly in a different document):

• Starting balance sheet
• Cash flow projection
• Balance sheet projection

You’ll almost assuredly have to go into far more than one page of detail when discussing financials with a potential investor, for instance, but you still need to keep this section simple in your single-page plan. Just be armed with more detailed information to back up your statements if necessary.

Highlights here should include profit and loss (P&L) projections, including gross sales; gross profit margin; selling, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses; and net profit. If you feel confident, include sales targets.

A lot of what you include in this section will depend on your situation. If you’re running a service business, for instance, and you’re not looking to borrow from a bank, you probably won’t need a balance sheet or cashflow information. You might otherwise, but again, the best practice here is to have those elements in a backup document you can use to support the one-page plan if necessary.

The main takeaway here is to hit the high points relevant to your business and leave the details for a longer document—and hopefully a longer discussion with a prospective partner or investor.

A Useful Exercise

A one-page business plan isn’t just busy work. It’s a clear and concise way to spur your audience into action—and to force yourself to think critically about your business. Adapt the outline for a standard business plan, and you’ll have a single-page plan that’s crisp and effective.

Sample One-Page Business Plan:

(For illustration purposes, I am basing this sample on a simple summer business trading used boats that I ran during summer vacations from college).

You can also check out our more detailed sample business plan.

Summary:

Bobby’s Boat Yard

Our business concept is to opportunistically buy used boats that are clearly underpriced, clean them up and perform minor repairs as needed, then quickly resell them for a fair price. We will focus on brand-name used outboard powerboats, especially smaller Boston Whalers that we can confidently determine the fair market value for and also quickly resell.

Market Analysis:

Our target market will be boaters who likely have previously owned an outboard powerboat and understand the premium value of a better built boat such as a Boston Whaler. Our market will be moderate-income people who don’t want to pay the high price of new boat and live within 50 miles of our yard so that they can easily drive to see and buy a boat.

Competitive Analysis:

Our primary competitors include official dealers of the boat brands that we are aiming to sell. These dealers get their used boats into top shape before selling them but charge a premium price. Our other competitors are the general public, who often price their used boats erratically and sometimes try to sell the used boat while it still needs repairs and/or cleaning.

Strategy:

Our key competitive capabilities are that we have an excellent understanding of the likely resale value of the brands of used boats we are focusing on, we can move instantly to buy an underpriced used boat, and we can quickly and for very low cost do minor repairs and cleanup of used boats in our inventory.

Products and Services:

We are highly specialized in that we focus only on several very well-known and respected brands of used outboard powerboats. We are pricing and positioning our boats to sell quickly by underpricing the official new boat dealers. We are also offering the public a more desirable and consistent quality of inventory than buying from the general public because we have done needed repairs to our boats and cleaned them up.

Marketing and Sales:

We will primarily advertise our boats online and in the classified section of the local newspaper. We will display all boats in our boatyard with “for sale” signs visible from the road.

Operations:

Bob will do most work personally, with the exception of cleaning the boats which will be performed by hourly workers whom we will hire only as needed. Repair work will be done in the old garage on the property or, weather permitting, in the open yard.

Financials:

Projected Profit and Loss, First Summer

Number of Used Boats Sold: 20
Average Sales Price: $3,500
Total Sales Projection: $70,000

Average Purchase Price: $2,800
Average Other Cost of Goods: $100
Total Cost of Goods Sold: $58,000

Gross Profit Margin: $12,000

Marketing Costs: $2,500
All Other Operating Costs: $1500
Total Operating Costs: $4,000

Profit Projection: $8,000

Bob Adams is the founder of BusinessTown