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What is business planning?

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Use this page to learn about what business planning is and how it can help your organisation.

What’s the difference between a strategy and a business plan?

Many organisations publish a strategy that incorporates an overview of their operational plan.

They might also have a business plan that references their strategy, but which is used as an internal document.

There are no hard and fast rules on what to include in each document, but it’s useful to think about two different processes.

Strategy

Your strategy should be a set of high-level decisions that set priorities and purpose. These decisions are based on what you believe are the best way of achieving your mission, and where you believe your organisation is best placed to make a difference.

A strategy document is likely to include a lot of information about the issues that you’re trying to address and the impact that you want to have.

Learn more in our section on getting started with strategy and business planning.

Business plan

Your business plan is a much more detailed description of how you’ll achieve your aims, the market in which you’re operating and the resources you’ll need.

It will probably include an operational plan that describes your main activities or outputs, and important milestones, timescales and performance indicators.

If the strategy is a picture of the house you want to build, the business plan shows the full blueprint – the wiring, the plumbing, the foundations and the workers.

How having a business plan can help your organisation

You might see a business plan as a chore: something that you don’t have time for and that no one is going to read.

But a good business plan should be a tool that you refer to again and again, and which sets you on course to take on new opportunities and overcome challenges.

The business plan itself is not really the most important part of this process – it’s the business planning that makes the difference. Business planning should be exciting, and can even be fun. It’s a chance for you and your colleagues to use your experience and passion to work out how you’re going to achieve your mission.

It shouldn’t be about one person sitting in a room on their own, writing a long document. It should be a process of discussion, collaboration, learning and problem solving. The plan is simply the end result of this process – and the beginning of the next stage.

A business plan is:

  • a live document that you refer to regularly and which can be changed and updated
  • a tool to help guide your actions and steer you towards your aims
  • a great way to showcase your organisation, passion and creativity
  • an opportunity to work out your finances and demonstrate your financial sustainability
  • a way of showing how you achieve social impact
  • a statement of where you are now and where you want to be.

What are you going to do with your business plan?

Before you start, think about what you’re going to do with your plan once you’ve completed it.

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • Who’s going to read it?
  • Is it going to be published on your website?

These things will make a difference to how you write and present your plan. Your focus might change, depending on the purpose of the document.

This table gives some examples of how you could use a business plan in different situations.

Last reviewed: 04 July 2022

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 04 July 2022

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