116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The thing about business plans is: they don’t have to be perfect. Julie Lammers, business counselor at the Small Business Development Center at the Kirkwood Community College Regional Center in Hiawatha, coaches people through creating business plans — a process many are intimidated by. But Lammers said writing one is not about flowery language or perfect predictions. “For a business to be successful, the most important thing is that the business plan is grounded in reality,” she said.
Lammers outlined a few key sections for prospective business owners 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 up by research. Lammers said libraries and the Small Business Development Center both have access to market research databases that can be a huge help when trying to figure out how many potential customers exist.
And simpler methods can be useful, too. “Getting out and talking to people or doing surveys is also customer discovery,” Lammers said. Another method she recommends is going to similar businesses, if possible, and observing how many customers are coming in.
After identifying customers, the next step is outlining how to reach them. Lammers said this section of the plan might 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, particularly if you’re hoping to secure a loan or attract investors. However, smaller businesses might not need complex estimates, according to Lammers. A simple outline of expenses and estimated income might be enough for a lawn mowing business, for example, or small shop owners like the ones in NewBo City Market, many of whom Lammers has worked with in the past.
Lastly, Lammers said people dreaming of starting or buying a business should create an operations plan. “What are your hours? How many employees do you need? How will you handle complaints?” Lammers said. Even if your business is small, she said the effort of thinking those things through or talking about them with a mentor can be extremely helpful.
Lammers said people are often pleased to realize that skills they picked up in the working world can benefit their new business — even if that business is unrelated to their former career. That was the case for her when she purchased Coffeesmiths in Cedar Rapids in 2006 after working in the corporate world for a number of years. (In 2016, she sold the business to Scooters Coffee.)
Although she’d never steamed milk for a latte, Lammers had customer service experience, knew how to negotiate with vendors, and how to lead a team. When prospective business owners reach out for help with their business plans, she makes sure to highlight any skills that will transfer. “I ask about their background and put it in the business plan to emphasize their strengths,” she said.
One thing Lammers has noticed is that female entrepreneurs in particular try to have all of their ducks in a row before getting started. It’s a good instinct, but she said the reality is that it’s impossible to know everything right away. “You don’t have to have all of the answers before you start your business. You’ll make changes and pivot along the way,” she said.
And mentors, like Lammers, are available for advice, so you don’t have to figure everything out by yourself. “Mentors do this on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she said.
“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” — Peter Drucker
“Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan.” — Margaret Thatcher
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