Build a Lean Canvas

Learn how to craft a simplified business plan that helps you break down your business idea.

The trickiest parts of starting a business can be data and direction. How are you organizing your ideas? What problem are you trying to solve, and how will you solve it? Are you even asking the right questions? And how are you communicating all of this?

Lean canvas helps entrepreneurs break down their business ideas. It’s a simple document that’s designed to replace elaborate business plans.

What is lean canvas?

Lean canvas is a business plan on one piece of paper. The template is broken into nine boxes:

· Problem: Your customers’ top three problems, plus how these problems are solved today

· Solution: Your new way of addressing the problem

· Key metrics: Numbers that tell you how your business is doing

· Unique value proposition: The compelling message that will get people interested

· Unfair advantage: Something that can’t be easily copied or bought

· Channels: How you reach customers

· Customer segments: Target customers and users

· Cost structure: Your fixed and variable costs

· Revenue streams: Sources of income

These sections seem pretty simple, but they each do a lot of heavy lifting. Each box forces entrepreneurs to distill the who, what, where, when, why and how of their businesses. Look at it this way: It’s not that hard to explain something in 1,000 words. But it takes an expert with clear vision to explain it in only 10.

Who can use lean canvas?

Lean canvas is for any entrepreneur at any point of business development. But the sooner you create a lean canvas, the better. It can help clarify the problem you’re trying to solve and give you new insight on how to work toward a resolution. Plus, referring to a one-page business snapshot is easier than rifling through a multi-page business plan.

What do I need to create my lean canvas?

Many books and online resources can guide entrepreneurs on how to create a lean canvas. While it’s possible to complete the plan in just an afternoon, getting outside input gives the plan breadth and depth – and improves the chances of business success.

Some courses ask entrepreneurs to record their assumptions about their businesses and then turn those assumptions into questions. Then, the entrepreneurs ask potential customers the questions. These interactions can provide surprising feedback and help shape a business’s future.

Working through lean canvas creation with another entrepreneur can be valuable as well. An accountability partner can help you make the most of the process and challenge concepts you might take for granted.

Be prepared: Not every lean canvas leads to business success. Instead, some lean canvases point entrepreneurs in other directions.

If a business plan has too many holes in it or doesn’t seem to be a good fit for the market, you may be better off redirecting your efforts. But lean canvas can help you figure that out sooner rather than later.

What are the next steps once I’ve created my lean canvas?

Once you’ve talked to people, processed their feedback and completed your lean canvas, you’re all set, right?

Not quite.

The lean canvas is a living document that can change as your business does. Think of it as an interactive tool, not a static, complete picture. Many entrepreneurs use Post-Its or pencil to keep changing their lean canvases. Others just keep making copies. No matter how it works best for you, your lean canvas should reflect how your ideas about your business – and how you meet the needs of your customers – shift.

Even as a lean canvas evolves, it remains a one-page road map that’s powerful in its simplicity. It focuses on the customer’s problem, the entrepreneur’s solution, financing the business and meeting those needs.

Where can I get help with my lean canvas?

Many of MOSourceLink’s Resource Partners use lean canvas. Reach out to one of our Network Navigators to find the best resources to help you. We’ll create your free Personal Action Plan and help you connect with the services that are right for you.

You can also turn to to further explain the principles of the lean canvas. And provides useful background on lean canvas and how Ash Maurya adapted the lean canvas from the business model canvas.

Organizations that can help

Many business-building organizations in Missouri can help you craft your own plan. Start with this list or pop over to The Resource Navigator to filter this list by your location, industry and more.

And of course, you can always call us at 866-870-6500 or tell us a bit about what you need, and we’ll craft your very own (totally doable) Personal Action Plan plan that’ll show you exactly whom in Missouri you can contact to move your business or nonprofit forward. All of our services are free.

Want to filter this list further?

Want to know who does this in your community? Head over to The Resource Navigator to customize your search by business industry, zip code/city/distance and/or specific need—or just give us a call at 866-870-6500 and we’ll make your Personal Action Plan of next-step resources for free.


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