One of the biggest challenges I’ve found with a new food business is, “not knowing what you don’t know.” In other words, prepare to be clobbered with a lot of information and questions geared around what you need to do, should have done, can’t believe you haven’t done yet and you did that totally wrong.

Today, I’d like to write about the business plan and how I’ve adapted mine to the learning curve. I’m talking about the thick of the business plan, not the fluff. I look at the middle of business plans more like a resume now. I think it should be shorter with a stronger focus on the bullet points. It should be an outline of what you’re going to do, how you plan to pay for it, what you will sell to keep the business feasible day to day and where you want to end up after 3, 6, 12 or 60 months. I fleshed my business plan out with a bunch of words and repetition because that’s what every business plan I’ve ever seen looked like. But, I went back and rewrote it into an easier to manage skeleton format that allows me to change my direction quickly and therefore be much more adaptable inside of my overall structure.

Example – In the beginning I wanted a store front and I wrote that into my business plan in a bunch of places. It turned out that having a store this early would be a serious drain on my capital and not something that would work right off the bat. When I rewrote the plan and took the store front out it really changed the flow of the whole piece and it was difficult to get it all put back together in a logical way. Where I needed more startup capital for rent and how that meant I needed to sell X amount of Y all changed pretty dramatically. I was flipping from page to page and doing keyword searches to make sure someone I handed my plan to wasn’t going to be caught off guard by my “storefront” mentioned in paragraph 3, page 5 that as of the first 4 pages hadn’t been revealed. Exactly.

With the skeleton plan I can see the whole thing at once. It’s easier to see the domino effect of any changes that I make. I can rewrite a few sentences and update my vision and be done now. And when I need to show the business plan to someone quickly they can follow everything much easier without telling me they need to take it home and read the full 7 pages.

Now, I have a 5 page plan and it includes market research, competition and all of my summaries and startup cost breakdowns, as well as a month to month profits & loss. But these things make up the jibber jabber of the plan. They are pretty much in place once you’ve done the research and written the scope. So when my business mentor wants to see the full plan I just sandwich my details in between all those fluffy little ink clouds of word stamina and explain that this is a living document. Business mentors love to hear that you are always updating your plan. It tells them that you are thinking about the lessons you’ve learned and applying that experience to the future of the business. And experience in a business plan is THE missing link that drives us all crazy writing the damn thing in the first place.

Hope this gives you some ideas! Now, go get out that plan and a scalpel and let’s do a facelift.


Jeffrey McElfresh
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