When Alice in Wonderland came to a fork in the road, she asked the Cheshire Cat, “Which road shall I take?” The cat replied, “It depends on where you want to go.”

There's a lesson to be learned from that line. As a newly independent planner, you need to know where you're going, and the best road map is a business plan.

Most people think of a business plan as an instrument to take to the bank if they need to borrow money for start-up materials or machinery. Meeting planning businesses don't need these to get started. But they still need a plan to measure progress, income, marketing efforts, and success.

Let's say that you have been planning meetings for a corporation and now, for whatever reason, you decide to strike out on your own. You have the know-how, some contacts, and even a client or two. But unless those clients will be there as long as your firm exists, you need to think about how many new clients your business will need to attract, what kind of revenue they will generate, what the competition is, and many other factors.

A good business plan can be a reality check. It can be the discipline that helps to manage your ‘doing’ versus ‘prospecting’ time. It should be a living document, not something that you prepare and then put in the file drawer. For example, if, after a few months in business, you see a dip in cash flow, you can look at the plan and determine what deviation from the plan might have affected things.

Get It on Paper

So how does one go about writing a business plan? It's not too difficult, but it does take some real thought. The key is to keep it simple.For a start-up, it's usually adequate to concentrate on a few essentials:

  • A description of your business that defines exactly what you intend to do. Will your company plan sales meetings? Extravaganzas? Incentives?

  • The ownership/structure that defines the type of legal structure your business will operate under — and why. S Corp? LLC?

  • The customers. Who will they be? Will you concentrate on small corporations, large ones, or perhaps a particular market, say, medical meetings?

  • The competition. Who offers a similar service? What are their strengths? A careful evaluation and list of competitors and their perceived strengths will help you to define your differential.

  • The marketing strategy. How will you get the word out? What kind of advertising or promotion will you use?

  • Management. Who will manage the company and why are they qualified?

  • The financials. Often, a cash flow projection is all that's needed.

  • An executive summary. This is language at the beginning that summarizes the plan.

Lincoln H. Colby, CMP, plans meetings for Tedford Oasis and is based in Brunswick, Maine. He has been a counselor with SCORE (see story, right) for a number of years and is part of a two-person team that conducts workshops on business planning.