Building a Business Plan Timeline: What to Consider

When it comes to building a business plan, one key component is ensuring you have a realistic timeline. It’s important to clearly see what the next steps are — and when you’re dealing with your business, there are a LOT of steps. That’s why a good business plan timeline will be able to keep you on track and on schedule.

Having a solid business plan that includes a timeline is critical to your goals and milestone targets; otherwise, you run the risk of jeopardizing your strategy and funding potential.

When you’re working on growing your business, having a timeline helps you know what you’ve already done and what’s next on your to-do list. The goal should be to create a thoughtful business plan timeline that’s logical while being neither too detailed nor too simple.

But how?

Here’s what you need to know about building a business plan timeline.

How Much Time?

The length of time you’ll have to dedicate to putting together the actual business plan will vary depending on which way you choose to do it. Should you decide to do it completely on your own, you’re likely looking at anywhere from 40 to 60 hours of your time.

Should you choose to do it yourself but get some assistance, by using something like the Business Plan Academy, your time spent on creating your plan will go down to about 20 to 40 hours total.

The other option is to simply hire a professional to do the work for you, and in that case, you’ll likely only need to invest a couple hours of your time.

Watch for This Common Mistake

Entrepreneurs often discredit the amount of work they’ve already done to get the business moving to the next phase.  It’s easy to underestimate the time and money you’ve invested in your business so far.

I see this all the time.

With startups, I’ll ask, “How much money have you invested in the business thus far?” and they’ll chuckle and say, “None, I don’t have any money to invest.”

I always smile because they’re likely only talking to me because they already invested in my services, like a business plan development or pitch consult — and these services cost money. The investment with me was made to get the business to move to the next phase.

So, if you aren’t counting those “little” investments as money spent on moving your business forward, and the millions of other little actions you’ve taken to make baby steps forward, then you’re really discounting progress that you should OWN proudly.

When you build your timeline for yourself, consider a Gantt chart to see where activities fall. You can download one online or even use a free built-in Excel template if you have Office software on your computer.

You want to ensure that your business plan timeline includes a full view of what’s really happening in your business. You also want to be able to use it as a guide on what to do next.

You’re allowed to be detailed in the Gantt chart, and this is important because you want to be transparent with timelines.  

Once finished, you can start converting that into your business-plan-friendly timeline.

Creating Your Business Plan Timeline

To create a good timeline for a business plan (especially for pitching to SBA loan officers), try to consider these four steps to keep it simple:

Step 1: Figure out what you’ve done thus far and take note of what it cost. Condense your information into three to five high-level categories.

Step 2: List three to five things you’re doing right this second for your business. It could be shopping for an investor, working on your operational plan, spreading awareness by telling others that you plan to start a business, or defining your target audience. Whatever the case, list it out. (You may even surprise yourself with all you’ve been doing!)

Step 3: List three to five things you need to do next. These can be things that are on hold because you need to raise funds or things you can’t start until you finish your current actions.

Step 4: Think ahead six to twelve months. What will you need to be working on? You can be high-level here as some people have a hard time with forecasting beyond tomorrow. That’s ok, no one will slap your hand if you aren’t accomplishing these timeline goals in a year. Simply paint a picture, whether it’s strengthening marketing efforts, doubling website visitor traffic, or refining ongoing operations. Whatever the case, give it a few minutes of thought, envision yourself a year from now, and jot down what you imagine yourself working on.

These four steps should give you four buckets: past, present, next steps, and future.

For your bank loan application submission, each bucket should have about three to five things which are stated in very short sentences. Don’t overwhelm your timeline by putting in too much detail when creating your business plan.

SBA loan underwriters are looking for a snapshot of what you’ve done and what you’ll do next.

Most importantly, if you can group each bucket by quarter, that’s the most simplistic format to use.

Instead of trying to guess at the best format for a good timeline for a business plan, use this template to get started.

For your own strategy (and sanity!), do what you can to make the process of business plan creation as easy on yourself as possible.

Remember, your business plan timeline should be crystal clear to follow — just like a roadmap. It should be a snapshot of your to-do’s for the next phase in your business. The better the picture you can paint, the more likely you are to be able to secure the funding that supports your long-term business strategy.

No need to guess on the exact format for a good timeline for a business plan. Feel free to use this template!

launch timeline for a business plan

Click here to download the timeline template.

Ashley Cheeks

Author Ashley Cheeks

Ashley Cheeks is a Business Plan Consultant. Her core business plan writer expertise is in designing business plans for bank and investor funding. She founded Written Success after years of being a professional business plan writer as a freelance consultant, and working for companies including GE and Fluor. She lives in Houston with her husband, daughter and son.

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