A business plan is a formal statement of a set of business goals, the reasons why they are believed attainable, and the plan for reaching those goals. It may also contain background information about the organization or team attempting to reach those goals.
The business goals may be defined for for-profit or for non-profit organizations. For-profit business plans typically focus on financial goals, such as profit or creation of wealth. Non-profit and government agency business plans tend to focus on organizational mission which is the basis for their governmental status or their non-profit, tax-exempt status, respectively — although non-profits may also focus on optimizing revenue. In non-profit organizations, creative tensions may develop in the effort to balance mission with “margin” (or revenue). Business plans may also target changes in perception and branding by the customer, client, tax-payer, or larger community. A business plan having changes in perception and branding as its primary goals is called a marketing plan.
Business plans may be internally or externally focused. Externally focused plans target goals that are important to external stakeholders, particularly financial stakeholders. They typically have detailed information about the organization or team attempting to reach the goals. With for-profit entities, external stakeholders include investors and customers. External stake-holders of non-profits include donors and the clients of the non-profit’s services. For government agencies, external stakeholders include tax-payers, higher-level government agencies, and international lending bodies such as the IMF, the World Bank, various economic agencies of the UN, and development banks.
Internally focused business plans target intermediate goals required to reach the external goals. They may cover the development of a new product, a new service, a new IT system, a restructuring of finance, the refurbishing of a factory or a restructuring of the organization. An internal business plan is often developed in conjunction with a balanced scorecard or a list of critical success factors. This allows success of the plan to be measured using non-financial measures. Business plans that identify and target internal goals, but provide only general guidance on how they will be met are called strategic plans.
Operational plans describe the goals of an internal organization, working group or department. Project plans, sometimes known as project frameworks, describe the goals of a particular project. They may also address the project’s place within the organization’s larger strategic goals.