Using the Plan outline

When you create a new company in LivePlan, it contains the default business plan outline. We intentionally start you out with a simple, lightweight outline containing the sections nearly everyone should have in their plans. If you’re new to business planning, you may wish to use this default outline. It includes instructions and examples for each topic to help direct your writing, and LivePlan Assistant can revise and rewrite your work. 

To help you customize your plan, we also offer many optional items that may be important for particular types of businesses. You can add, remove, rename, and re-order the default outline parts as needed.

In this article: 

What's included in the default outline

The first chapter in any newly created plan will be your Executive Summary. It will look a little different from the rest of the plan outline. We recommend writing the executive summary last after the later sections of the plan have been completed. This makes it easy to summarize your work in the direct and concise language that will best convey your ideas to the reader. New executive summary highlighted.png

The default sections that are included in a new company's plan document are listed below: 

Default Plan outline (click to expand)

Executive Summary

Opportunity

Problem & Solution

  • Problem Worth Solving
  • Our Solution

Target Market

  • Market Size & Segments

Competition

  • Current Alternatives
  • Our Advantages

Execution

Marketing & Sales

  • Marketing Plan
  • Sales Plan

Operations

  • Locations & Facilities
  • Technology
  • Equipment & Tools

Milestones & Metrics

  • Milestones Table
  • Key Metrics

Company

Overview

  • Ownership & Structure

Team

  • Management Team
  • Advisors

Financial Plan

Forecast

  • Key Assumptions
  • Revenue by Month
  • Expenses by Month
  • Net Profit (or Loss) by Year

Financing

  • Use of Funds
  • Sources of Funds

Statements

  • Projected Profit & Loss
  • Projected Balance Sheet
  • Projected Cash Flow Statement

Optional Appendix

(Not visible in the Plan section, but may be added upon download)

Profit and Loss Statement

  • Profit and Loss Statement (With Monthly Detail and optional itemization of revenues, direct costs, and personnel)

Balance Sheet

  • Balance Sheet (With Monthly Detail)

Cash Flow Statement

  • Cash Flow Statement (With Monthly Detail)


For plans created prior to September 22, 2023, the Executive Summary will follow the same Chapter/Section/Topic structure as the rest of the plan. That chapter had the following outline by default:

Executive Summary

Opportunity

  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Market
  • Competition
  • Why Us?

Expectations

  • Forecast
  • Financial Highlights by Year
  • Financing Needed

What additional content can I add to my plan?

In addition to the default plan outline, LivePlan provides a selection of pre-built topics, charts, and tables that may be useful for specific kinds of businesses. 

This content is available on the Outline page of the Plan section. You can easily add these items to any section of your plan.

Note: If you need content not included in the list below, you can add custom chapters, sections, and topics to your plan.

Available topics (click to expand)

  • Barriers to Entry
  • Company History
  • Exit Strategy
  • Expected Return
  • Future markets
  • Intellectual Property
  • Key Customers
  • Key Planned Hires
  • Market Growth
  • Market Trends
  • Partners & Resources
  • Pricing
  • Regulatory Requirements
  • Risks & Mitigation
  • Roadmap
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Validation of problem
  • Validation of solution

Available charts (click to expand)

  • Cash Flow
  • Cash Flow by Month
  • Cash Flow by Year
  • Expenses - The total of your direct costs and expenses.
  • Expenses by Month - The total of your direct costs and expenses, broken down monthly.
  • Expenses by Year - The total of your direct costs and expenses, broken down annually. 
  • Financial Highlights (Year 1)
  • Financial Highlights by Year
  • Gross Margin by Month
  • Gross Margin by Year
  • Net Profit (or Loss)
  • Net Profit (or Loss) by Year
  • Net Profit (or Loss) by Month
  • Revenue
  • Revenue by Month
  • Revenue by Year

Available tables (click to expand)

  • Milestones Table
  • Personnel Table 
  • Projected Balance Sheet
  • Projected Cash Flow Statement
  • Projected Profit & Loss
  • Revenue Forecast Table

What are chapters, sections, and topics?

Like any detailed report, a business plan has chapters (first level), sections (second level), and topics. To see a view of your outline's structure, click on the Outline page in the Plan section:

from the plan page click the outline .png

 

In this view, your entire plan outline with the Chapters, Sections, and Topics will be displayed. This screenshot shows you how the parts of the outline are named, which will be helpful to know as you use the instructions below:

chapter_section_topics.png

Note: Only topics can have text written in them. Chapters and sections exist to organize the topics, while topics contain the actual plan content. 

Adding a standard topic, chart, or table to your plan

  1. In the Plan section, click Outline:
    from the plan page click the outline .png

  2. At the top of the Available Content menu, select Topics, Charts, or Tables to choose the type of item you want:
    outline content available .png

  3. From the Available Content menu, click on the item you want to add to your outline and drag it to the location on the right side of the page. The change will save automatically:

add_to_outline.gif

Adding custom chapters, sections, and topics

In addition to the default outline, LivePlan lets you create custom chapters, sections, and topics to place anywhere in the plan.

To add a custom chapter, section, or topic:

  1. In the Plan section, click Outline:
    from the plan page click the outline .png

  2. At the top of the Available Content menu, select Custom:
    custom_chapter_topic_section.png

  3. In the Available Content menu, click on the item you want to add to your outline and drag it to the new location, then type in the title of the new item:
    2023-01-13_10-41-02__1_.gif

  4. The change will save automatically.

Note: A topic must be placed within a section. A section can only be placed within a chapter. If you drag a custom topic directly under a chapter heading, LivePlan will create a section heading between them. This can create duplicate headings in your plan. To correct these, read Avoiding duplicate headings.

Changing the title of a chapter, section, or topic

You can change the default title of any chapter, section, or topic in the plan outline to better suit your needs. For example, if you sell products but not services, you can change the preset title “Products and Services” to just “Products.” 

Changing the title of a chapter or section

  1. In the Plan section, click Edit Outline:
    plan section outline highlighted.png

  2. Hover over the item you'd like to edit. A pencil icon will appear to the right of the title. Click the pencil icon. The title will be highlighted. Type in the new name:
    change_chapter_title.gif

  3. Your changes will be saved automatically.

Changing the title of a topic, table, or chart

  1. In the Plan section, click Edit Outline:
    plan section outline highlighted.png

  2. Click the pencil icon to the right of the title you want to change and enter a new title:
    rename_plan_topic.gif
  3. Your changes will be saved automatically.

Changing the organization of your plan outline

LivePlan's business plan outline is fully customizable. You can build a plan that reflects your unique business and market by adding, removing, renaming, and rearranging chapters and sections. You might find What's included in the default outline helpful to get an overview of the default plan outline.

This short video shows you the customization options available:

How the plan outline is organized

The current plan outline is displayed in the left-hand column when you click the Plan section. You can click on any chapter title to see the sections included in it:

plan-tab-view-organize.gif#asset:1981

Like any detailed report, a business plan has chapters (first level), sections (second level), and topics. The topics are where you'll enter your text; chapters and sections are there for organization. This view makes it easy to navigate to any part of the plan so you can edit it. For more on editing sections, read Writing and editing plan content.

To see an editable view of your outline, click on the Outline section of the Plan section:

plan section outline highlighted.png

In this view, you will see the same outline with the Chapters, Sections, and Topics in place:

chapter section topics.png

Moving a chapter, section, or topic in the plan outline 

The plan outline is highly flexible. You can change the order of the chapters within the plan and the order of sections within a chapter. You can even move sections and topics from one chapter to another.

Moving a chapter

  1. In the Plan section, select View & Edit, then click Edit Outline

    plan section outline highlighted.png

  2. Click on the chapter heading you'd like to move, and drag the chapter or section to the new location:
    2022-12-20_09-13-20__1_.gif

  3. When you move a chapter, all the sections and topics in that chapter will move along with it. The change will save automatically.

Moving a section or topic

  1. In the Plan section, select Outline
    plan section outline highlighted.png

  2. Click on the section or topic you'd like to move and drag it to the new location:

    move_section.gif

  3. If you move a section, all topics in that section will move along with it. You can move sections or topics within the same chapter or into another chapter.

  4. The change will save automatically.

Note: Topics must be contained within sections, and sections must be contained within chapters. If you move a topic directly under a chapter heading, the software will insert a section between them, as shown below:

custom_section_added.gif

In this case, you can give the section and topic the same title. Then, hide the topic's title to avoid a duplicate heading displaying in your plan.

Removing chapters, sections, or topics from your plan outline

If there are chapters, sections, or topics in the outline that you don’t want to be included in your plan, it is straightforward to remove them. Removed chapter or section headings will be permanently deleted from your outline. (If you want to re-instate these later, you can easily re-create them.)

Note: As a non-permanent option, you may want to hide some chapters in your plan when you download it instead.

When you remove a topic, it will no longer appear as part of your plan’s printed output, but any information you have entered in the topic will be saved. Other users on your account can view the contents of any removed topic, and you can restore it to your plan at any time.

What are chapters, sections, and topics?

To see an editable view of your outline, click on the Outline page in the Plan section:

plan section outline highlighted.png

In this view, you will see the same outline with the chapters, sections, and topics in place. This screenshot shows you how the parts of the outline are named, which will be helpful to know as you use the instructions below:

chapter section topics.png

Removing a standard chapter or section:

  1. In the Plan section, click Outline:  
    plan section outline highlighted.png

  2. Click on the chapter or section you want to remove.

  3. Drag the chapter or section to the left sidebar. Drop it there. A warning message will appear, as shown below:
    remove_section.gif
  4. Once you have deleted a chapter or section, all topics contained in it will also be removed. You will see, however, that all the topics (and any text you've entered into them) will be saved to the left sidebar, in alphabetical order, as Available Content. Charts and tables removed from the outline will return to the Charts and Tables section of the Available Content list:
    outline_topics.png
  5. To filter out blank topics, select Only show topics with content:
    topic_content.png

Removing a standard topic:

  1. In the Plan section, click Outline:
    plan section outline highlighted.png
  2. Click on the topic you want to remove.
  3. Drag the topic to the left sidebar. Drop it there:
    remove_topic.gif
  4. The change will be saved automatically, and the topic and any text you've entered will be retained in the Available Content sidebar.

Removing a custom chapter, section, or topic

If you create a custom chapter, section, or topic for your plan and decide to remove it later, any text you have entered in the topic will be saved in the Available Content list. Custom chapter and section headings will be deleted, but you can restore them if needed.

  1. In the Plan section, click Outline:  plan section with arrow pointing to outline.png

  2. Click on the custom chapter, section, or topic you want to remove.

  3. Drag the custom chapter, section, or topic to the left sidebar. Drop it there. If you are deleting a chapter or section, a warning message will appear:

    remove_custom_topic.gif

  4. Click Confirm to save the change. Although the chapter or section heading will be deleted, any custom topics you've created within it will automatically be saved in the Available Content list.

Deleting a custom topic

If you've created a custom topic and then removed it from your plan outline, that topic and any text you've entered will be retained in the Available Content sidebar in the Topics section. If you'd like to delete this topic and its text permanently, follow these steps:

  1. Mouse over the custom topic in the sidebar. A small trash can icon will appear:
    delete_custom_topic.png
  2. Click that icon. An overlay warns you that the topic and text will be deleted permanently. Click Confirm to process the deletion:
    confirm_delete_topic.png

Restoring a chapter or section you've deleted from your plan

When you remove a chapter or section from your plan outline, all topics within it and any text you've entered into those topics will automatically be saved in the Available Content list for later use. The chapter and section headings, however, are deleted permanently.

If you've removed a chapter or section and decide later that you'd like to include it in your plan, the video below shows you how to restore it by creating some custom content:

Using the instructions and examples to help write your plan

LivePlan's default outline includes instructions for each written topic and two examples of responses. The examples' specifics won't match your business plan, but they'll give you an idea of how to structure your response. 

 

instructions and plan examples highlighted.png

Adding an example snippet to your plan

Next to the instructions, you'll find Plan Examples, which you can click on to view. You can click Collapse to hide them if you want to continue writing without the examples shown. 

plan writing examples .png

If you like a particular example, you can copy its text and paste it into the text editor, as shown below. Then, you can modify the text to fit your plan:

copying and pasting a plan example  (1).gif

 

Click I'm Done to save your changes:
im done button.png

Troubleshooting your Plan outline

What if I don't know what a business plan for my industry should look like?

You may want to use the library of sample business plans within LivePlan to see how other similar businesses have approached their business plans. Seeing how other entrepreneurs in your industry have expressed their business ideas can help inspire you to describe your business.

While we don't offer these sample plans as templates, you are always welcome to copy material from them and paste it into your plan to use as a starting point for your editing.

We also publish industry guides for popular industries. These guides contain many helpful details on starting companies in those industries.

What if I'm unsure what changes to make to my plan outline?

Remember that the essential information in most business plans is quite similar. You'll need to explain how your company is solving a problem and who your target market is. You'll need to explain how you'll be distinct from your competitors. You'll need to build a forecast. All of that is the same in any industry.

If you're unsure how to customize the LivePlan outline, don't worry too much about it. You can start by filling in the default outline. As you do, you may be able to think of other details to add that would help describe the company you're starting. You can add these to your plan at any time.

In other words, don't worry about starting perfectly. Think of your business plan as a living document that evolves as you get deeper into starting your business.

Finding great ideas through market research

Conducting market research is another way to determine what information to include in your business plan. We have a lot of helpful resources to get you started with on our website, Bplans.com:

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