Starting your own business? Don’t skip a structured business plan

Clickner, Amy

Amy Clickner, CEO of Lake Superior Community Partnership

If you were to ask me what question I get asked most often by people who are looking to start their own business it would undoubtedly be; “Do I really need a business plan?”  My response is simple, if you want to succeed, yes, you do need a business plan.  Just like you wouldn’t build a house without plans or bake a cake without a recipe, you need to have plan for what your new venture will look like and how it will be funded.

With all of that being said, there are no hard and fast rules of what a business plan has to be or what it has to look like.  We have several guides at the Lake Superior Partnership Office and one of our business development representatives would be happy to sit down with you and go through them and find one that suits your personal style.  There are several things that a business plan needs to have:

  • An overview of your company
  • How you plan to structure it (a sole proprietor, LLC, Incorporation?)
  • Financials and Projections
  • Market Analysis
  • Industry Analysis
  • Competition
  • Human Resources Plan
  • Marketing and Sales Strategy
  • Management Plan
  • Exit Strategy

Most people take a look at that list and are turned off by it.  What does it mean?  Where am I supposed to get this stuff from?  Believe it or not, most of it you already know.  You know what you want your company to be, how you want it to run, what your financial situation is and what the day to day operations are going to look like.  Getting those out of your head and down on paper is an enormous first step.  From there, experts at the LSCP or SBDC can help you with the research and financial projections and the final packaging if you need to submit your business plan to a lender for financing.

Having a business plan and financial projections prepared for a lender is one reason that it is necessary to create one, but you may think that if you’re self-financing you can skip the process all together.  I don’t recommend it.  One of the most beneficial part of the planning process is that it help you work out the kinks in your plan and refine your ideas and budget.  In some cases after going through the planning process, people find that their business won’t be profitable and decide not to move forward, other times, they refine their ideas, sometimes the plan is just  a confirmation of what they already knew and no adjustments need to be made (this is extremely rare).

Owning your own business will be one of the most difficult and rewarding things that you will ever do, don’t shortchange yourself at the beginning by neglecting to prepare a plan.

Authored by: Amy Clickner, CEcD, CFRM, the CEO of Lake Superior Community Partnership. Amy is the Vice President of the Michigan Economic Developers Association.

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Supporting Entrepreneurs Is Our Economic Development Strategy

Support for entrepreneurs and small business is an important economic development strategy. “Small businesses continue to spur U.S. job growth. Companies with fewer than 50 employees created 45 percent of the 188,000 new jobs in June,” recently released in the ADP National Employment Report. In Meridian Township, our Economic Development Corporation Board has adopted a mission to include entrepreneurship. Our Mission is to “Set the standard in creating an entrepreneurial culture; be the example for revitalization of our business districts and be the leaders in building sustainable public/private partnerships.”

One of our most recent priorities was to find a way to assist entrepreneurs and small business owners within our township with access to capital. We partnered with The Entrepreneur Institute in Lansing to provide microloans for any eligible business owner in Meridian Township. The benefit of forming this partnership is two-fold. One, it allows us a means in which to provide small microloans to our business community and two, we do not have to vet and manage the loans. We leave that process to the experts at The Entrepreneur Institute.

Secondly, Meridian Township is home to The MARC, a new business support center. The MARC is a collaboration and partnership between the Meridian Area Business Association and the Meridian Township Economic Development Corporation with several additional partners and corporate sponsors. It is a direct outcome of Meridian Township’s participation in the pilot program of Michigan State University’s Creating Entrepreneurial Communities Project in 2007. The MARC team formed partnerships early on with our local library and with Michigan Small Business Development and Technology Center to offer resources and confidential business counseling. The MARC was originally housed at the Okemos Library but as of February 2013 The MARC leases a township owned building in our Okemos Downtown Development Authority District. Entrepreneurs and business owners throughout the Greater Lansing region can access resources and support through The MARC.

The MARC team very deliberately reached out to other incubators and support organizations in the region when planning the use of the space and the educational programs. The team was dedicated to not duplicating but rather complementing services within our region. For instance, The MARC is ideal for those businesses ready to transition from incubators and home offices to a more visible work environment. At The MARC, an entrepreneur can utilize work space on a day pass basis, a month-to-month basis, or an annual basis. The annual memberships offer mail service and a one-year membership to the Meridian Area Business Association. The premier annual membership also includes a designated cubicle space. The MARC also has a large meeting space that can accommodate seminars and workshops for 30 – 40 attendees comfortably.

We believe it is critical to assist our entrepreneurs and business owners in the navigation of all the diverse support services within our region. We work hard at establishing and growing strong relationships with our regional partners. Our regional economic development organization, Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), continues to play a vital role in creating a regional network of incubators which includes The MARC and in developing other programs and services that offer entrepreneurial support. The MARC provides educational programming on-site as well as promotes events and programs of other area organizations. The Meridian Township EDC Board is very grateful that we have such tremendous resources in our area to assist us in our mission to build an entrepreneurial community.

The Meridian Township Board has made economic development one of their top priorities. Township staff is working closely with our EDC Board to improve the process of starting and expanding businesses within our township. We are hearing more positive feedback from business owners opening businesses in our community and the number of new businesses opening is increasing. Retention visits has also been given priority and this too is opening the lines of communication with our business community.

The Meridian Township EDC Board is optimistic in the changes we see taking place both within our local community and within our Greater Lansing region. By putting a focus on the needs of our entrepreneurs and business owners we come to better understand how we can work together to meet those needs. Entrepreneurs at all stages of businesses need resources and support although those needs may change throughout the life of the business. One of our key roles as economic development professionals is to assist businesses in making the appropriate connections for their ultimate success. In my experience, building a strong sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem that includes both resources and good policy is one strategy in our toolbox we should not overlook.

Authored by: Marsha Madle, CBSP, Meridian Township Economic Development Corporation Board Chair. Marsha serves as a Member at Large on MEDA’s Board of Directors