If careers have paths, being an entrepreneur is like veering off the trail into the wilderness. The terrain is hard to navigate, the signposts are not obvious and you’re alone deciding where to go and how to get there. Just as it’s not a good idea to walk off into the woods without a map or an experienced guide, a new entrepreneur needs a business plan and, if possible, a mentor.
I’ve done a business plan for every new business I’ve founded, including the tiny Annex coffee shop. And I’m not alone. The fellows who run the Food Freaks food truck outside Fort Greene Park started with a business plan they still use to literally and figuratively keep all three partners on the same page.
A business plan has two parts: the narrative where you discuss the market for your idea, assess competition and describe how you will attack the market; and the financial projections, which include profit-and-loss projections and cash-flow analysis. Of course, you can, as I did, simply Google “(blank) store business plan,” but a better approach is to enter the Brooklyn Public Library’s Power Up! business plan competition, which began its annual ramp up last night at the Brooklyn Heights branch and will host another working session at the library next Thursday.
Finding a mentor can be as simple as asking around. Though entrepreneurs as a breed are notoriously short on time, we also love talking about business. Building a business can be a lonely endeavor and those who have done it successfully really do enjoy an opportunity to share survival tips and advice. Don’t know any entrepreneurs? Don’t worry. National organizations such as Score, which is comprised of retired executives, exist solely to make such introductions. And local groups such as the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project and the Fulton Area Business Alliance can be enormously helpful to start-ups.
And if you can’t find an individual mentor, there’s no dearth of good business magazines and books that serve essentially the same role.
Of course, no matter how good your map or your guide, remember it’s called “the wilderness” for a reason — it’s a jungle out there. That’s why I live by the credo passed on by my mentor and Greeene Grape and ShopKeep.com co-founder Jason Richelson: “There are no mistakes, only learning experiences.”
Power Up! introductory information session at the Brooklyn Heights branch, 280 Cadman Plaza West at Clinton Street, Thursday, March 29, 6 p.m.
Amy Bennett is co-founder and CEO of the Greene Grape wine store, its sister grocery center, Greene Grape Provisions, and the Annex coffee bar next to Greenlight Bookstore. She also co-founded ShopKeep.com, a point-of-sale system for the iPad. She is a recovering attorney.