After a couple horrible weeks of allergies I’m finally back in the clear — in no small part thanks to my trusty neti pot, a little teapot-looking device that gently rinses the sinuses with salt water. I resisted trying this thing for years, despite scores of passionate stories from friends and acquaintances that using a neti pot had changed their life. Not only was I skeptical, but the whole idea sounded yucky. Until I tried it. And now I’m one of the converted. (Seriously, if you’re at all prone to allergies or sinus issues, the neti pot will rock your world.)
Undoubtedly you’re wondering what saline nasal rinses have to do with business planning. Well, it occurred to me this morning that neti pots are like business plans: The only people that hate them are those who haven’t tried them. For all the considerable fear and loathing of business planning that I encounter among would-be entrepreneurs, it all vanishes as soon as they get over the psychological hump about it. Once they have even an initial draft of a simple business plan under their belt, they not only realize it wasn’t that hard, but they feel the power.
A funny thing that I’ve observed is that the part people dread the most — the financial projections — usually turns out to be the most satisfying. There’s something about plugging numbers into a spreadsheet that magically transforms ideas into something almost real, giving a real boost of excitement and energy.
There are endless books and resources on writing business plans (my books feature a dedicated chapter to the subject) so there’s no shortage of help out there. If you want someone to work with you through the process, consider the following resources.
Women’s business centers and other microlenders. There are many nonprofits that help support entrepreneurship, either for women only or for specific populations and communities. Besides offering lending services, these organizations typically provide a wide range of assistance with developing business plans, including multiweek classes, workshops, and one-on-one consulting help. To find a Woman’s Business Center in your community, check the list published by The Association of Women’s Business Centers at www.awbc.biz. Microlenders certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury as community development financial institutions are listed at www.cdfifund.gov; click “What We Do,” then click “Information for General Public.” From that page you will be directed to the lists and databases of certified CDFIs.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA website (www.sba.gov) includes several resources to help you write a business plan, including a step-by-step online business planning workshop. You’ll find these resources in the “Small Business Planner” section of the SBA site; alternatively, search the SBA website for “write a business plan.”
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). The SBA offers a nationwide network of SBDCs that provide valuable and free assistance to small businesses on a range of issues, from permit and license questions to financing and business planning. Counselors are typically available for one-on-one help with the process of developing a business plan. To find a local SBDC near you, visit the SBA website at www.sba.gov and look in the “Services” section; alternatively, search the SBA site for “SBDC locator.”
SCORE. Originally the Service Corps of Retired Executives (though the spelled-out version has essentially been abandoned), SCORE is another SBA partner program. SCORE offers a “Business Tools” section on its website (www.score.org) with templates of financial tools and a start-up business plan. SCORE also offers a free online workshop on developing a business plan and one-on-one counseling for entrepreneurs. Contact your local office (listed at www.score.org) to set up a meeting.
Private business coaches or consultants, or possibly a bookkeeper or accountant. These professionals may be able to help with the financial portions of your business plan.
—Adapted from The Women’s Small Business Start-Up Kit, 2nd ed. (Nolo).