Written by Albert Hallenberg, Reference Librarian, Information & Reference Dept., Main Library
In starting your business, a highly recommended tool is to draw up a business plan. This document answers the major questions posed to your business start-up: What makes my product/service unique? Who and where are my customers/clients? What will be my forecasted profit margin?
It can also be helpful if you are presenting your business plan to a potential funder (such as a lending bank). But what does a complete business plan look like? The Library can help you with that!
With your Library card, you can access the Business Plans Handbook Series in the Gale Virtual Reference Library. This multi-volume series contains hundreds of full-text business plans for many business types. One or several of these sample plans may act as a template to write up your own plan.
The Handbook Series is an eBook title within our Gale Virtual Reference Library database.
How to access the Business Plans Handbook Series
- If you are on a home device, you will need to sign in using your Card number/Username and PIN number (the last four digits of your phone number on record by default).
- When you are on the Gale Virtual Reference Library home page (actually now called the Gale eBooks home page), you will see on the left-hand side several topics under “Browse Collections.”
- Click on the “Business” topic selection. You will see a list Business eBook titles in ‘tile’ or image format. The distinctive yellow/white/blue Business Plans Handbook series normally displays on the first row.
- Click on the book image, and then you will see a list of separate volume links (48 as of this writing – 06/11/2020).
Gale publishes, on average, two volumes annually. Each volume contains about 15-20 full-text business plans.
Choosing a volume by business type
In the upper right-hand corner of the Business Plans Handbook series home page is a “Search within Series” dialog box. Here is where you can enter your Business Type to find a matching full-text plan(s).
The search box is fairly keyword-friendly, but you may find it best to keep your entry simple. So, let’s say you are interested in opening a coffee house in your neighborhood. In this case, just enter the word “coffee” in the search bar (if you try to be too specific, such as using the words “coffee bar” or “coffee house,” you may miss out on some relevant entries).
The database usually will give you the most relevant entries at the top of the list. So, you will see with just using the word “coffee,” we have listings under “Coffee House” and “Coffee Shop,” items we might have missed had we been too specific with our search term.
You will probably see entries that are not an exact match, but could be of interest as a possible competing business types, such as “Combination Coffeehouse/Play Spot” or they may have a relevant connection to your business type, such as “Coffee Roaster.”
As you scroll down, you will find the entries generally become less and less relevant to your specific business type, probably because they have the word “coffee” somewhere in their Plan. Even so, what might be considered not highly relevant entries such as “Tea Shop,” “Bookstore” or even “Cigar Shop” could still provide unique marketing angles. So, they might be worth a read.
What to keep in mind
When you locate a matching entry, here are some items to keep in mind, as you examine your selected sample:
- According to the publisher (Gale) all of these sample Plans come from real businesses that have experienced proven success. However, for privacy concerns, the names of the businesses and their owners are fictional.
- All the Plans in the series are divided into sections. You can preview the sections in the “Article Contents” box on the right-hand side.
- Some of the business plans you will see in the Series will use different wording for the headings, but two sections that always stand out are: Executive Summary and Financial Information.
- Executive Summary: Lets the reader know about your product or service and what makes it unique in relation to your competitors. For instance, your business may be in a prime location with lots of heavy (potential) customer foot traffic.
- Financial Information: Essentially forecasts your profit margin over a set number of years; gross income minus business expenses. If you are seeking funding, such as a bank loan, the funder (typically a loan officer) will be examining these figures closely. A number of samples in the Business Plans Handbook series have great examples of financial tables.
Tip: If you have a counselor from SCORE, the Ohio Small Business Development Center, or another advisor, show the rough draft of your plan to them. They have great insight as to what funding sources, such as banks, are looking for.
Business plan templates
If you prefer to work with a blank business plan template, the Business Plans Handbook series can help with that.
On the Business Plans Handbook series home page, click on the “Search Within Series” window in the upper right-hand corner & simply enter the word “template.”
Several entries marked “Business Plan Template” will appear, providing a detailed outline for the ideal business plan.
The SCORE website also includes “Business Plan Outline” as part of their “Business Briefs.” It might be helpful to look over this template too, particularly if are working with a SCORE Counselor.
Business plans for nonprofits
I am trying to start a nonprofit enterprise. Does the Business Plans Handbook series include Plans for nonprofit groups?
Yes, it does! If you scan the contents of the volumes published in the last 2-3 years, many of them include sample plans for nonprofit organizations.
That’s great. What is the best way to search for a nonprofit plan?
On the Business Plans Handbook series home page, click on the “Search Within Series” window in the upper right-hand corner & type “nonprofit” (no hyphen).
You will find a number of relevant entries, many of which have the word ‘Nonprofit’ in either their business title, business name or in their Executive Summary.
Because of the current limited number, you may not find an exact match with your organization, but the content in several of them, particularly the “Financial Plan” sections, may serve as good templates.
Talk with Library staff
If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to e-mail us at IRFPublicDesk@CincinnatiLibrary.org or call (513) 369-6900.