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Smith: Written plan points business in right direction, keeps it from getting lost
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Recently I was reminded about the importance of maps. While sitting in a class with eight or nine other people, I noticed that one couple was missing from the group. I assumed that the missing couple would not be in the class that night since they were generally punctual.

As Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story.

About 15 to 20 minutes into the class, the missing couple arrived and were warmly greeted. At a break, someone asked the couple why they had been tardy. Very quickly the wife said that they had been lost and she had begged him to stop and ask for directions or at least get a local map.

Gathering what was left of his shattered ego, George Rogers Clark bravely uttered something to the effect of "I got us here didn’t I?"

This humorous episode reminded me of the challenge of so many business owners. How can a business be started or operated without a written business plan?

If we were to make a journey from Georgia to Walla Walla, Wash., it would be wise to take along a map. Yes, we know that the general direction to travel would be northwest.

Past that point we would be lost. The same is true for starting or operating a business in that we might get started, but soon enough we would be as lost as Hansel and Gretel.

A written business plan is a road map giving direction into the future. So many businesses have no idea of where they have been, where they currently are or in what direction they are headed.

A written business plan is a physical document that stays in front of you as a reminder of why the business was initially begun. Also, a written business plan is a map to be followed so that no one becomes lost.

In addition, if the business ever needs financing, a banker will want to read the business plan to see what direction the business has been and will be in the future.

The following items should be in the plan.

  • A detailed description of the business
  • What the legal form of the business will be (sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation)
  • What professional skills and experience do the operators of the business possess?
  • What products and/or services will be offered?
  • What will make the business significantly different from the competition?

To get more information about business plans, e-mail, call or visit your local University of Georgia Small Business Development Center.

J.C. Smith is a consultant for the Gainesville district office of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, 770-531-5681. His column appears Tuesdays and at