Turning Your Cocktail Napkin Into A Business Plan

Yikes. I have been staring at napkin sketchmy computer for the past hour getting myself psyched up to begin writing my plan. Last night, when I drew my idea on a napkin for my friend, Jen, my idea was perfectly clear… I know that in order to get started on funding activities, I need to write the business plan. If you find this daunting, you are not alone.

Where do you start? Here are a few things that I have learned—having written dozens of plans over the years. First, to warm yourself up and get ready to write, jot down your story (free flow, top of mind):

  • Why are you doing this?
  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • What is your business? This is where you turn that picture you drew on the napkin into a brief statement.
    Who is your customer? In education, this is usually a little complicated. Usually there are multiple layers of customer: your end user (students, teachers, parents); adopters (teachers, institutions). Also, what segment of customer are you targeting? There is a big difference between the elite universities and community colleges, between remedial education and graduate degree programs.
  • How will you make money? This is important! What is your revenue model? And what basis do you have for assuming your customer will buy what you are offering? It’s really helpful to look at competitors and comparable companies (which may not even be in your space) to help you figure this out.
  • Why you? What do you uniquely offer that would make someone want to invest in this business? That would make a customer want to purchase your offering?

This should get you ready to start writing. A few other tips:

  •  Start with the executive summary. Get the sketch down on paper and then fill in the details.
  •  You will likely need to do a lot of research to craft your story or strategy. That’s normal. Make sure you keep a log of what you learned in the research (including statistics and sources), as you will need it for the plan.
  • I like to start with outlines and then fill in the easy parts first, rather than trying to be linear. Also, worry about organization and editing later. Just get it down on paper.

There are a lot of places you can go for ideas about how to structure a business plan. The Small Business Association site, How to Write A Business Plan, is a good starting point. Two other good sources: Entrepreneur, Your Business Plan Guide, and Inc., Writing A Business Plan.

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