There are two types of entrepreneurs: those who start a business with careful planning and those who jump right into it without a formal plan. Both offer avenues to success, but starting a business with a plan helps you visualize that path—and, more importantly, stay the course.
But sometimes your business plan is too long or comprehensive for your needs or audience. That’s when your lean business plan comes into play.
What is a lean business plan?
A lean business plan is a shortened version of your full comprehensive business plan. Lean business plans are useful for when you need to modify your plan for a specific audience. Typically the lean business plan is for internal use. For example, if you want to share your business plan as part of the onboarding process for new hires, you may use a lean business plan to avoid overwhelming them with too much information.
While your regular business plan may have lots of information and full paragraphs, your lean business plan includes only the most important, need-to-know information. You might use more bullet points and lists in your lean business plan than in your regular business plan.
Further, your full business plan talks about the what, why, who, where, and how behind your business idea. Your lean business plan, on the other hand, zeroes in on the how behind your business.
Lean business plan template
Your lean business plan template should have the following sections:
- Executive summary (optional)
- Company description
- Market analysis
- Products and services
- Customer segmentation
- Marketing plan
- Logistics and operations plan
Many times, you can also omit the financials section of your lean business plan.
If you want to follow along, consider starting with this business plan template as a base and then trimming it down to fit your lean business planning needs.
How to write a lean business plan
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to take our fictional Paw Print Post business plan example and modify it to be a lean business plan. If you don’t already have a full business plan, you can follow this business plan writing guide to get started. Then you can adapt it as follows to suit your lean business planning needs.
The executive summary should have bullet points highlighting what’s to come in the rest of your lean business plan document. The job of the executive summary is to draw your readers in and get them interested in the information that follows. Call out exciting or surprising bits of information to pique their interest.
In your regular business plan, you might write a one-page executive summary similar to Paw Print Post’s:
However, you want to shorten it and make it more scannable for your lean business plan. So Paw Print Post may change its lean business plan executive summary to the following:
- Paw Print Post is a sole proprietorship that sells customized greeting cards featuring a pet’s unique paw print. Founder Jane Matthews runs the business using her extensive experience in the pet industry and formal graphic design training.
- The pet industry generates $100 billion each year, globally. Paw Print Post’s high-end greeting cards fill a niche in the market serving pet owners who don’t want the mess of a traditionally captured paw print involving ink or plaster. All customers need to do is send in a digital image of their pet’s paw.
- Paw Print Post’s ideal customer is a woman based in North America who considers herself a “cat mom” or dog mom.” These greeting cards are priced as premium cards with volume discounts for larger orders.
- Promotion will happen via industry trade shows, partnerships with existing pet brands, and digital advertising.
- Paw Print Post is currently in its pre-launch phase and projects at least $1,000 in monthly revenue within three months of launch.
In some cases, you may choose to forego the executive summary altogether for your lean business plan and instead jump right into the following sections.
The company description explains what you do and sell and also offers an overview of your business model and type. We might reformat Paw Print Post’s company overview writeup as follows:
Paw Print Post sells unique, one-of-a-kind digitally printed cards that are customized with a pet’s unique paw prints.
- Type of business: sole proprietorship run by owner Jane Matthews
- Industry: pet industry (primary); some goods could be categorized in the greeting card industry
- Background: Founder Jane Matthews has experience in the pet industry and as a graphic designer. She’s combining the two loves to capture a niche in the market: unique greeting cards customized with a pet’s paw prints, without needing to resort to the traditional (and messy) options of casting your pet’s prints in plaster or using pet-safe ink to have them stamp their “signature.”
- Immediate: Launch at the Big Important Pet Expo in Toronto
- Two-year goals: (1) Drive $150,000 in annual revenue from the sale of Paw Print Post’s signature greeting cards; and (2) Expand into two new product categories
Team: Jane Matthews is the sole full-time employee
- Contractors hired as needed to support her workflow and fill gaps in her skill set.
- Standing contract for five weekly hours of virtual assistant support with Virtual Assistants Pro.
The market analysis section highlights the research you’ve done to validate your business idea. You’ll want to outline the fact that there’s a sizable audience who is willing to spend money with a business like yours. Distill this information into bullet points.
Your market analysis section of your lean business may also consist of a SWOT analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Paw Print Post would keep its SWOT analysis in its lean business plan:
You may also summarize your competitive analysis, perhaps listing your competitors and their strengths and weaknesses.
Products and services
This section of your lean business plan will outline what exactly you plan to offer for sale for your customers. For your lean business plan, a bulleted list will work perfectly.
In the Paw Print Post business plan example, we have the following products and services section in the full business plan:
For the lean version, we could truncate this to read:
Paw Print Post’s flagship product is a line of greeting cards customized with a pet’s unique paw print. Here’s how it works:
- Customers send a digital image of their pet’s paw
- Paw Print Post edits the image and adds it to the front or interior of several card options, including:
- New pet welcome
- Pet loss condolences
- Pet birthdays
- Adoption milestones
- Training course completion
- Service pet work commencement
This section of your lean business plan puts your audience into groups based on shared characteristics. Customer segmentation is helpful because it allows you to define specific audiences and create targeted promotions and messaging that appeal directly to those groups.
For Paw Print Post, this section is already quite short:
For the lean business plan version, you may reformat the information like this:
Here’s Paw Print Post’s ideal customer:
- A woman who owns a cat or dog
- Lives in North America 25–55 years old
- No children
- Shops online at least once a week
- University-level degree
- $50,000 average annual salary
- Values her time
- May refer to herself as a “cat mom” or “dog mom”
Paw Print Post’s full business plan outlines price, product, promotion, and place in detail. But when preparing a lean business plan, we want to truncate all of that information and make it easier to understand at a quick glance. So we modified the half-page marketing plan section to these four bullet points:
- Price. A single card costs $9.50, while bundles of identical cards reduce the price, with three for $20 and six for $30.
- Product. Paw Print Post’s greeting cards solve a specific problem—pet owners want custom, high-end products featuring their pet, and a paw print is a unique and affordable way to do so. Since pet owners only need to take a digital image of their pet’s paw, it’s a lower-effort way to customize cards than what exists in the market currently.
- Promotion. Leading industry trade shows, partner promotions with established products, and digital ads on both Facebook and Instagram.
- Place. Paw Print Post will have an online store at pawprintpost.ca where customers can place their orders. Paw Print Post will ship all orders to customers’ chosen addresses.
Logistics and operations plan
Again, we can lean on the power of bullet points to make the logistics and operations plan section suitable for a lean business plan. Paw Print Post’s logistics and operations plan takes up an entire page in its comprehensive business plan. But we can shorten it as follows:
- Suppliers. Local print shops for one-off prints, given that each item needs to be made to order and cheaper offshore options won’t work.
- Customer places order and sends their digital image
- Jane takes five minutes to process the image in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop before sending to the local printer
- Local print shops offer one- to two-day turnaround for custom orders. Each custom card will cost $2 for setup and $0.75 for each print, so the costs for each bundle offered are:
- One card: $2.75 (Price: $9.50, margin: $6.75)
- Three cards: $4.25 (Price: $20, margin: $15.75)
- Six cards: $6.50 (Price: $30, margin: $23.50)
- Facilities. Jane processes images and ships orders from her home office; all contractors maintain their own facilities.
- Equipment. Paw Print Post already owns the required software and hardware to process the images.
- Shipping and fulfillment. Paw Print Post will fulfill orders using Shopify Shipping and may look into local fulfillment options or contractors to help scale if needed.
- Inventory. Paw Print Post does not hold inventory and all orders are created as they come in.