Put Your Business Dreams On Paper First

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Finding a business opportunity that fits your personality and your situation is pretty tough. Developing a business plan that will help you get the backing you need for your new enterprise and keep the fledgling business headed in the right direction is even tougher.

Jan Warren, an Alberta Agriculture business coach, has a simple system to get you started and past the “numb brain” that hits many of us when we see business plan advice. She advises starting with a more basic exercise to help you see the real potential of your idea.

“Start with what, who, where, how of your business idea,” says Warren. “These are things you can work out early in the process of deciding whether the idea is worth pursuing or needs work before you put more effort into it.”

Warren advises writing down what you want to do in as much detail as you can on one piece of paper. Imagine what this business might be like if it’s successful. You don’t need to be fancy or get the wording right at this point, this is a tool for you to use. Then move on to the next part, write on separate pieces of paper who will buy your product, why, and for how much, as well as where they’ll buy it.

You also need to write down how, where and when you’ll produce your product and get it to the point of sale, who will help you and what you need them to do. As you go through each part of the business, you can jot down ideas and file them with the appropriate question, says Warren.

She suggests putting your idea sheets into a ring binder so you can add to each section as you think things through. You could do this in the computer, but only if you find it easy to jot down and go back to notes longer than to-do lists. Once you have the basics of your business idea written down, you can look over it and see what you need to revise and things you need to check.

CHECK YOUR COSTS

If you want to raise chickens to sell at the farmers’ market, for example, this may be the time to check the costs of buying chicks, raising and slaughtering them, the local and provincial permits needed, egg marketing board quota regulations, as well as farmers’ market opportunities and rules. You might stop by the old chicken house and see whether it’s usable.

As you find more information about each part of your business idea, write it down and put it in the appropriate section of your new business binder. You don’t have to work out answers in any particular order, but Warren cautions that you need to stay focused.

Look again at what you want to do and what you want to achieve with this business. It doesn’t matter whether you want just enough extra income for something special like a trip, or to find whether you enjoy the business, or you want to start a company with millions of dollars in sales, write down what you’d like to achieve. Figure what you want to achieve in the next few years.

“Then, stay focused on this,” says Warren. “It’s your vision for the business and each of the other parts of your idea file should be part of your way to that vision. The information and answers you develop with this exercise builds your road map to this vision.”

BE READY TO CHANGE

You may find you have to revise your idea. “Don’t be surprised if your costs are higher than you expect,” says Warren. “You may need to change your product to something customers will pay more for. Or, maybe you need another idea.”

If your business idea is a nonstarter for some reason, you haven’t invested a lot of effort into it by running through this pre-business plan. It will likely be easier to work through the potential of your next idea. If your idea seems sound, it’s time to write the business plan. Write the executive summary last, says Warren.

What you want to do is the vision, the level of achievement is your goal, and how you do each thing to make your idea a reality is a business action.

“If you’ve gone through this process and answered all the questions that come up as you look at each part of the operation, you’ll have the information for your business plan,” says Warren. “That’s the time to start preparing something to guide you in your business or present to others to enlist their support.”

You may want to enlist the help of a business coach like Warren to help you review your plan and direct you towards your next steps. To help in preparing your plan, she particularly recommends a Canadian Farm Business Management Council publication called Farm Business Planning: Understanding, Preparing and Using, available at www.farmcentre.com.

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