We’re often contacted by students who are in the midst of a college business plan class project. In fact, we’ve even been flattered to have professors contact us about using our materials for their own classes (which we have obliged). Individuals from both groups often express the notion that it’s hard to write a business plan designed to get a business loan without divulging personal information about credit worthiness, co-signors or guarantors. Stop right there! The number one reason most entrepreneurs write a business plan is to clarify their own ideas.
This makes the endeavor ideally suited for a college business plan class project. After all, most of college is about clarifying one’s own ideas. Moreover, writing the plan as a project provides additional opportunities. You’ll find that people knowledgeable in the industry you choose are more willing to share their time and critical thinking—where they might otherwise be guarded.
The ultimate reward for clarifying your own ideas is that you might just join the ranks of mega-successful companies that started out as class projects, or by individuals still in college. They include Federal Express, Dell, Google and of course Facebook.
Regardless of whether your business plan class project is something you actually intend to pursue, find a business idea that you have some passion for. Ideally, you’ll choose an idea about which you already have some familiarity, knowledge or expertise. It’s essential that you have the mindset of the customer of your business. Being able to think like a customer is critical to knowing how to succeed in your selected business. By contrast, few delis are started by vegetarians.
This is where college students have an edge. They are often consumers of new products or services that older, more experienced entrepreneurs are not familiar with. Choosing a business where nobody has 10, 20 or 30 years of experience can be an advantage. While critical thinking and careful planning will certainly still be required, you can avoid stepping into a well established industry with clear market leaders. Establishing your own experience or knowledge as a competitive advantage is a very compelling edge to any business plan.
Forget that your business plan is for a class project and approach it like you’re really going to invest your time, energy and family’s money. Think through every detail and reconcile your facts. In the end, your business has to work as a strategic and operational blueprint for your business. Here are just a few examples:
• Backup your sales forecasts with a sales execution plan. If your plan says that you’re going to generate $1,000,000 in revenue in year one, make sure your labor and advertising budgets support that forecast.
• Find financial data for similar businesses and compare your financial forecasts—particularly in the area of expenses. Too many college business plans gloss over the details. An accurate and detailed breakdown of startup costs and on-going expenses is what separates business plans from wishful thinking.
• Think carefully about your go-to-market plan. Where will you start? What is the first product or service you will offer? Who will be your early customers? Almost every $100,000,000 business started out with a few thousand dollars in sales and grew from there in a thoughtful and well planned way. Where will you start?
Most college business plan class projects require a written document and a class presentation. The written documents are often comprehensive and thorough—the product of dividing the task among several participants. Make sure your presentation is equally focused on being compelling. Avoid the temptation to make your presentation entertaining. Your business plan and your presentation should make your audience (and especially your professor) say, “I could invest in this.”
For more information on the specifics of how to write your entire business plan, or specific sections, refer to our business plan template page.