Business planning

COSS has developed a training module for writing a Business Plan which is available in conjunction with a training webinar that we run on the topic.  Check with your COSS advisor when the next training webinar is due to be held.

A business plan is probably the single most important document in relation to your community organisation. It explains:

  • What the project proposal consists of.
  • What value it brings to the organisation and to the community.
  • The role of the asset in your plans.
  • Why the project was selected.
  • How the project will be managed, delivered and monitored.
  • How the project will be funded.
A business plan helps you to think through all aspects of your project
  • The sector.
  •  Your customers.
  • The competition.
  • The opportunities and threats you face.

It takes a close look at your organisation so you can objectively and honestly report on your resources, skills, strengths and weaknesses and decide what needs to be done to rectify any shortcomings.

A business plan will enable you to determine the financial aspects of your business model. It will allow you to prepare a financial report, cash flow forecast and a budget that will show you where you currently are and what your finances might realistically look like in the future. 
 
As well as informing your committee, members or others close to the organisation, a business plan allows you to show funders and other interested parties that your business is:
  • Financially viable.
  • Provides value for money.
  • Capable of being effectively implemented.
  • Able to keep going into the future (be sustainable).
There are no golden rules to writing a business plan. Every project is different and this will be reflected in the business plan you create. The main areas that a business plan should cover are:
  • The summary (always written last) about your organisation.
  • The project/business model with key milestones.
  • A work plan and monitoring plan.
  • The market you are working in and a related marketing plan.
  • Resources and financial information including a fundraising plan.
  • A risk assessment.

Who should write your plan?

You know your own organisation best and can determine what additional information should be added to any section. For example, a project heavily reliant on a building would have to include a maintenance schedule and should account for finance required for ongoing, and likely increasing, maintenance costs as the building ages. In addition, a ring-fenced financial reserve should be built up over time, to renew and invest in the building to reduce future repair costs.

It may be possible and practical for different people to work on different sections of your plan independently or in teams. Once each section has been put together you can then collate the information and create a cohesive plan.

Throughout the process continually ask yourself, 'what evidence is there to back up my assertions?'

Sometimes it can be useful to involve business planning or sectoral consultants with expertise in the business field you intend to operate in to help you write the plan. This can be valuable because it offers:

  • specialist expertise e.g. business plan writing
  • specific sectoral knowledge e.g. running a cafe 
  • an outside perspective.

There are organisations that can help you identify relevant external expertise. DTAS/COSS can identify consultants. Some of your stakeholders – enterprise agencies, funders etc may also be able to make suggestions. Other sources of support might include Just Enterprise where you may be able to access a small number of consultancy support days.

A good first step is to review the Business Plans produced by other organisations. Public bodies publish these documents on their websites as part of the asset transfer process, so you can access other community groups documents to get a sense of what is required and the areas you need to cover. 

Follow the links through on the left of the page for more details on the different stages of developing your plan.