"As a concept, Town End Farm Shop was born after a conversation I had with a neighbour over a beer at a barbecue. The idea was to create an online farmers' market. From that first chat, we formalised some initial ideas by writing a rough business plan.
"Having to put together a start up business plan means you have to consider many different issues, and this can help focus your thinking. The first business plan we put together proved very useful. In fact, it enabled us to get a loan from Yorkshire Fund Managers. I started the business as a limited company, originally named Paganum, with my fellow director Heather Mitchell back in 2007. We're based in the Yorkshire Dales.
"I had little experience of writing business plans, so I attended a local course. It wasn't particularly earth shattering, but it was a good starting point. I also came away with a business plan template – which came in very handy.
Content is king
"The plan I produced detailed our skills, qualifications and background. Our idea for the business had to be explained in full. Crucially, we had to say who our customers would be and what competition we faced. We also had to provide information about our products, which are, basically, locally sourced high-quality meats. We sell wines, too.
"The financial information – profit and loss and cash flow projections, etc – is very important. It's what experienced people concentrate on when they look at a business plan. The finance must be realistic and your figures must add up. I also had to explain such things as how the business would survive if income failed to live up to expectations. You have to consider all cash flow eventualities.
"I also wrote down my plans for marketing, staff and premises. All key elements of a business plan are explained within the executive summary, which is very straightforward to write because the information is already contained elsewhere in the document. You're best leaving writing your executive summary until the end.
"Initially, our first plan covered our first 12 months in detail, but information about the year after that was vague, if I'm honest. We've since revised it.
Adapt the business plan
"Think of your business plan as being like a CV. You need to alter it to suit the needs of the person who will read it. Originally, we wrote ours entirely for ourselves, to test whether we had a viable idea for a business. Some things were just notes to myself, for example, 'Get detailed costs on X… Find out how much Y charges'. Obviously, we needed to complete such information before we could approach the bank, and we created a tailored version when we went for funding. Importantly, the plan had to show we could pay back the money we wanted to borrow.
"You shouldn't just keep your business plan locked away. You need to work with it and update it with actual facts and figures as the business progresses. We've rewritten our plan several times and we make minor revisions in between to update figures as we go.
"Several things didn't pan out as anticipated. We expected to sell mostly to consumers, but we now sell much more produce to restaurants. As a result, we've had to adapt our marketing strategy and our business plan also needed changing, of course. We're able to look at goals set out in our plan to see how well we are performing as a business, which is really valuable."
Chris' three key lessons
- "Make sure your figures add up, otherwise no one will take you or your business plan seriously"
- "Review and update your business plan regularly – especially the financial information"
- "Take advantage of any free business plan templates available - ask your bank or local Enterprise Agency"