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Business planning for your centre

A Community Resource Centre is usually not conceived as a business, rather as a community initiative, or even a club. However, it will stand much more chance of success if it adopts the Business Planning process - as any new small business should - and combines that process with the usual good practice of community development.

A good Business Plan will help you to find the right questions as well as providing some of the answers. It will reveal areas where you need to find out more, and eventually provide you with a "map" to development.

If you're planning to start your resource centre as a community group, the business planning process will help you to work together, keep you on track, and stop you getting side-tracked or hung up on contentious issues, like adopting a legal structure or agreeing on how to convert a building.

Remember that the business or project planning process is cyclical. Every time you find out something new, it will affect what you know already and you mat have to revisit decisions. Planning is something that is never finished - a good project will consult and change its Plan and redo it every year!

If no-one in your group knows anything about small business planning (and please note: it's different from being an accountant at a huge multi-national!), you can even frame the process as a capacity building or training programme. This approach may help you to gain funding - and some of the group could gain valuable skills or perhaps even a qualification. Otherwise, consider obtaining training and business counselling for free from your local Enterprise Agency .

What's in a Business Plan?

Who are you and what do you want to do?

Answer this question and you will have an Introduction.

Describe your group; its ideas and vision; give an overview of the project idea and who you want to help - you can put a list of project aims here. You can list group members in an Appendix

Where are you?

Answer this question and you will have a section called Location and Premises

Briefly describe your community and location - why is it important to do the project here? (also covered in next section in more detail) Describe your premises if you have some in mind; if you don't, indicate the size or kind of premises you might need, or how you might share premises. You can put details like maps or an outline plan in an Appendix.

Why you want to do it

This question will give you section you can call Market Research, or just Research.

It's a very broad question and might produce a long section. But it's an all important section that will trigger the funding!

Try working from the general to the specific. You can start by giving the context for your project:

What needs does your community have?

Are there any local or national trends you can refer to - such as local employment and income? Social issues? The growth of the Internet and IT use? Are there any local (or national) politics affecting your community?

You can prove there is a need for your project by summarising the answers to a questionnaire you may have distributed to the community (link to: questionnaire

Who else is doing it?

Answering this question will give you a sub-section of Market Research - you can call it "Competition" or "Competitors".

The purpose of this section is to find out who is offering a similar service, that is accessible and affordable to your target group. Consider the various things you plan to do and find out if there is any competition.

Make a list of who offers what - and the pros and cons (or strengths and weaknesses) of the existing service.

There is no point having a photocopier or a fax service, for example, if that is already available through a local small shop - you will only duplicate the service and alienate the shop keeper! You might consider an email service or a colour copier instead, if enough people want it.

Use the opportunity to identify gaps or to offer a different service to whatever exists already.

It may be that there is no where else close by where the community can get the services you are planning - particularly access to computers and the Internet or affordable training.

How do you plan to do it?

This section will give you a detailed description of the project and how it will work - You could call it "Project Implementation"

  • Try to give outline targets and timescales - even if you have to change them later on.
  • What skills will you need? Will you employ anyone?
  • Outline any legal matters you have to comply with and how you will sort them out.
  • Consider how you will promote and market the project. - you could make this a separate section called "Marketing".
  • Outline what prices you will charge.
  • How will people find out where you are and what you do - and how much will it cost to tell them? Will you use leaflets? Signage? A web page? meetings? Special events? How much can you do yourself and with volunteers?

What do you need?

You might call this part "Resources and Equipment"

Describe: what you have, what you need, where you might get it.

Remember people are your most valuable resource. Describe your partners, volunteers, skills, assets, funders, donations and time put in so far.

How much will it all cost?

Finally - you should now be in a position to deal with a section on Funding and finance

Divide your costs into:

  • Capital costs (assets you need to buy) and
  • Revenue costs (ongoing running costs like consumables, heating, subscriptions and any salary or volunteer costs).

List all the assumptions you are making (e.g. how much one of something costs and how many you will need in a year; how many days you will be open etc). It's a good idea to do this straight into a spreadsheet.

If you are not experienced in calculating financial projections or working out cashflow, and there is no tame accountant willing to help your group voluntarily, then get expert advice link to (see Where else can I go for help?) Even if you are a whizz with spreadsheets and figures it's a good idea to get someone to look over your costs. The TCA have a sample cashflow for a Start-up Telecottage in their Teleworking Handbook (http://www.tca.org.co.uk ) or visit the WREN Business Tour

Match funding

Some funders want to see how much you have raised already from other sources; others have a fixed percentage you must raise.

Any donations you have received - in kind or in cash - or any work done by volunteers can be counted into the start-up costs or revenue costs as match funding. Volunteer hours can be counted as£5.75 for general labour and £120 for professional help.