The essential elements of a business plan are opening with an overview, industry, market, sales and marketing, products and services, management team, competition, business operations and strategy, financial projections and plans, and exit strategy. Each element’s length would depend on the business’s needs, strengths, and its uniqueness. Throughout the whole process, remember to mind your p’s and q’s, because your business plan is a reflection of you, not just your invention that you want to share with the world. If your business needs lots of cash, you probably want to put a lot of time and effort into your business plan so that you look your best. If you are going for just a little investment, never underestimate the potential a solid business plan holds since this is the next step for your business to grow. When your business flies, growing pains might require a sprinkling of cash, so what do you go for? Update your business plan! It’s your ticket to ride, so take care, and take great pains to make it perfect.

Okay, so you’ve got this neat product that does what no one else’s product does or maybe you have a way to provide a service that is unique or highly in demand. What does the industry look like now? What does the industry look like in the future? Do you hold a corner on the market, or are you simply swimming with the rest of the fishes? If you are not sure that you have a great plan, check out the leaders in your industry.

Google will be your best friend as you search the net with key terms on your product/service. Check out the leaders, including how many people they employ, how much money they make, why they are so great (even though you know you could do better!) and all those other reasons why you think that you can swim with the big fish. Then, put it down on paper. Be honest, though, and show how great those big fish really are, because you are going to ride their wake, essentially, if you convince investors that you are up to the challenge. Make sure that you cite your sources—very important to maintain your credibility. Quote reliable experts in the field. Keep it factual, no fluff. Put in some graphs, based on recent data, and make it visually friendly for the investor who is just perusing through a stack of hopefuls. You want to catch their eye with some color, but not kindergarten colors—professional and polished.

So, you’ve made your case that you are ready for the big swim, but are there people, companies, or even countries that want to buy what you’ve got? You’ll want to make sure that there is a demand for your product. You might have the coolest idea in the world, but if there is no one to buy it, you are dead in the water. Do your research on who would be buying your product. It’s especially important to include any government trends that would affect your market, like new safety laws, or new legislature requiring certain aspects that your product has in the best way.

Now that you know who is out there doing what you want to do, and who is out there yearning for your product that makes you stand out, you’ve got to convince investors that you have an excellent plan for sales and marketing. I recommend that you look at your competition’s strategies, find a way to slide into the market that makes you stand apart, and write it all down. Your sales and marketing element of your business plan reflects if you have the insight and wherewithal to survive swimming with the big fish. Will you be able to swim back stroke, side stroke, or even dive in deep to get to the other side? You’ve got to tell your investors how you are going to get your product out there and in front so that sales are inevitable. Clients often consult with a marketing firm to get an edge if they don’t have a sales background. Make sure that the firm has a background in very similar fields as your product. If your market is global, get a firm that can take you global, and keep you in the spotlight.

What about your product or your service? What is your special something? Is it patented? Has it been tested? How is it innovative or unique? Can you prove it? Color pictures can help tell the story. A picture is worth a thousand words. Well, add a hundred words about it, and you’ll be okay.