Should social entrepreneurs not bother with a business plan?

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<p style="margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica">Last week I met up with a young social entrepreneur who's looking to set up his first social business.&nbsp; He'd been working on his business plan but had recently been on a well funded &amp; respected training programme, where he had been told that he probably didn't need a business plan after all.</p>
<p style="margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica">Are they right?&nbsp; There are plenty of people who will tell you that the last thing you need when setting up in business is a business plan. &nbsp; So why, particularly if you want funding or investment, do you invariably have to write one?</p>
<p style="margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica">My take on this is that social entrepreneurs do need business plans, but they need to be better business plans.&nbsp; We certainly don't need to see social businesses squeezed into the kind of inappropriate, just-for-profit business plan templates that tend to be popular amongst grey-suited bank managers.</p>
<p style="margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica">What's far more important than the document is the process that you go through to come up with the plan for your business.&nbsp; In my opinion that should be a creative, collaborative process which starts with something that many entrepreneurs don't do - market research.</p>
<p style="margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica">Why don't we bother with market research?&nbsp; Largely because it's hard to know where to start, when to end, and what to do in the meantime.&nbsp; But putting your business into context is vital for social businesses.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p>
<p style="margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica">It's granted that social businesses are set up to meet a social need.&nbsp; But there also needs to be demand for what you're planning to offer.&nbsp; If your business is going to avoid being yet another one of those good ideas that never worked in practice, you need to get a realistic sense of whether there's likely to be demand for what you want to offer. &nbsp;</p>
<p style="margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica">In my experience if you do some decent market research - and that invariably means doing it yourself - then you'll become so immersed in your chosen market that the rest of your business planning will become a whole lot easier.&nbsp;&nbsp;And by thinking it through yourself (or ideally <em>yourselves</em> - we can all benefit from an entrepreneurial team) then you'll hopefully come up with a really good sense of what you need to do.&nbsp;</p>
<p style="margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica">That may or may not be written down in a smartly formatted document.&nbsp; You may or may not ever look at it again.&nbsp; But the thinking you will have done - and will continue to do - will prove priceless.&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p>
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