Essential Business Planning Tools

There is no more important first step to starting a business than developing a strong, detailed business plan.  The following free resources are outstanding:
Educate yourself on what a professional business plan covers on the following SBA webpage. Take this 30-minute on-line class. Watch this 3-minute video.  Attend a nearby business planning seminar.  Check out these archived transcripts of chat sessions on Starting a Business.  These resources will give you an idea of what your business plan should cover.
Seek professional consultation and mentorship through the Clemson Area Small Business Development Center and/or the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). Neither of these excellent organizations are going to do all of the research and hard work for you, but they will offer you free, professional counseling to keep  you on the right track.
Begin writing your business plan using these outstanding free resources. There is no shortage of business plan templates and “how to” guides strewn across the internet.  The following resources are excellent.
The SBA Build Your Business Plan tool allows you to develop each section of your plan on a 100% secure website and to save your work as you go. The tool provides tips and resources for each section of your plan.  For example, business plans should begin with an “executive summary”.  Would you like to know what an executive summary is?  Would you like to see examples?  These resources are available inside the Tool, so that you can both learn and write your business plan in the same place.  In order to begin, you do have to register with the SBA website (provide name, email address, etc.).
This Business Plan Template developed by the SC Small Business Development Center. This Microsoft Word document is a standard business plan outline that allows you to fill in your own business information, section by section, until your plan is complete.  Not as sophisticated or interactive as the Build Your Business Plan tool, but still useful.