The thing about business plans is that they don’t have to be perfect. Julie Lammers, a business counselor at the Small Business Development Center at Kirkwood Community College Regional Center in Hiawatha, walks people through creating business plans — a process many are intimidated by. But Lammers said writing one isn’t about flowery language or perfect predictions. “For a business to succeed, the most important thing is that the business plan is grounded in reality,” she said.
Julie Lammers, business counselor at the Small Business Development Center at Kirkwood Community College Regional Center in Hiawatha
Lammers outlined a few key sections that future business owners need to focus on. The first is a value proposition, which is a statement that explains the benefits of the service or product that will be provided. Next, the business plan should identify a target market, ideally backed by research. Lammers said the libraries and the Small Business Development Center both have access to market research databases that can be a big help in determining the number of potential customers.
And simpler methods can also be useful. “Going out and talking to people or doing surveys is also about discovering customers,” Lammers said. Another method she recommends is to visit similar businesses, if possible, and observe the number of customers who enter.
After identifying the customers, the next step is to define how to reach them. Lammers said this section of the plan could include everything from Facebook or newspaper ads to signage.
One of the most important — and most daunting — sections of a business plan is financial estimates, especially if you’re hoping to secure a loan or attract investors. However, smaller companies might not need complex estimates, according to Lammers. A simple overview of estimated expenses and income may suffice for a lawn mowing business, for example, or for small traders like those at NewBo City Market, with whom Lammers has worked in the past.
Finally, Lammers said people dreaming of starting or buying a business should create an operating plan. ” What are your schedules ? How many employees do you need? How will you handle complaints? Lammer said. Even if your business is small, she said the effort of thinking about these things or talking about them with a mentor can be extremely helpful.
Lammers said people are often thrilled to realize that the skills they’ve learned in the workplace can benefit their new business, even if that business isn’t related to their old career. This was the case for her when she bought Coffeesmiths in Cedar Rapids in 2006 after working in the corporate world for several years. (In 2016, she sold the business to Scooters Coffee.)
Although she had never steamed milk for a latte, Lammers had experience in customer service, knew how to negotiate with suppliers and how to lead a team. When future business owners ask for help with their business plans, she makes sure to highlight all the skills that will be transferred. “I ask about their backgrounds and put them in the business plan to highlight their strengths,” she said.
One thing Lammers has noticed is that female entrepreneurs in particular try to have all their ducks in a row before launching. It’s a good instinct, but she said that in reality, it’s impossible to know everything right away. “You don’t have to have all the answers before starting your business. You will make changes and pivot along the way,” she said.
And mentors, like Lammers, are available for advice, so you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. “Mentors do it regularly. Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she said.
“Plans are nothing; planning is everything. —Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Plans are just good intentions unless they immediately escalate into hard work.” -Peter Drucker
“Plan your work for today and each day, then work your plan.” – Margaret Thatcher
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