San Juan County Economic Development Council | Helping islands businesses to thrive

Develop Your Business Plan

To get started with any new business idea, you need to pull together the critical components that help to explain the idea and to provide the basis for the argument that it is a viable business opportunity.  This is necessary to assist you in thinking through all of the elements of the idea to ensure you haven’t left out some important aspect. This plan will also be used to move forward with your idea, to obtain feedback on your idea from friends and consultants, to facilitate outside financing, business insurance, and other services.

First step – reading and learning

First, you have to do your homework, starting with a lot of reading.  Good places to get a solid overview for most of what follows are:

If you have never run your own business before, it might be best to take a class or two on running your own business.  Classes are available from the EDC and from a variety of other sources.

  •  SCORE – Service Corps of Retired Executives – More information and links for small businesses than you can ever cover, they offer local workshops and online workshops to help your business.
  • Skagit Valley College Business Resource Center – Offers classes online and in Mount Vernon WA – 360-416-7873

Facts about doing business in San Juan County

  • Small businesses fail more than they succeed. You should take a class from SCORE or Skagit Valley College if you have never had a small business before.
  • Small businesses are severe cash draws for at least the first three years. Sole proprietors typically need to have another source of personal income to support themselves during this period. In San Juan County, August, September and December are generally the primary months to make a profit; so if you don’t want to be here during those months you should probably start a business somewhere else.
  • A company credit card is a small business owner’s best friend.  But like all “credit” mediums, it can turn into a nightmare if used irresponsibly.
  • Free government money to start your business is a myth….you might qualify for training, or a certain tax credit, but generally there’s no such thing as government grants for businesses.
  • Being a vendor for government, nonprofits or other businesses is one of the easiest ways to build up clients quickly. If your services or products are something such entities need, get listed on their vendor rosters.
  • Everything from freight to real estate costs more in the islands…and the labor pool is very limited; take these things into consideration before starting up.

Writing the plan

Your plan needs to include those elements sufficient to paint a complete picture of the idea you are proposing.  Following is an example list of the parts of a complete business plan.  Depending upon the set uses of your plan, you may or may not need all of these parts.  Templates are available, with a couple of sources being:

Here’s the general outline of what a business plan should include:

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Products and Services
  • Marketing – multi-year
    • Product Marketing plan
    • Market Segmentation
    • Customer definition and targets
    • Competition and Competitive Analysis
    • Strategy to Win
  • Sales Forecast – multi-year
  • Operations Plan
    • Production
    • Location
    • Credit Policies
    • Personnel
    • Inventory
    • Legal
  • Management and Organization
    • Key Manager Bio’s and Experience
    • Key skills required and their availability
  • Owner’s Personal Financial Statements
  • Startup Expenses and Capital Requirements
  • Financial History (of company, if any)
  • Detailed 12-month Financials
    • Projected Balance Sheet
    • Profit Projection
    • Cash Flow Projection
  • Summary 3-year Financials
    • Projected Balance Sheet
    • Profit Projection
    • Cash Flow Projection

Make sure you can answer (and answer well) the following questions in your business plan, and in your presentation.

  • Who are your initial target customers – focus?
  • Who is your competition?
  • What prevents the competition from entering your space?
  • What is the “real” customer need and why do they need to address it now?
  • How long will this need last?
  • What are your assumptions and why are they true? What if they aren’t?
  • What skills are required and do YOU really have them?
  • Are employees necessary and available with the required skills?
  • What are the risks and what are you proposing to do to manage them?  If they happen, what is your contingency plan?

Seeking advice and assistance

As you prepare and write your business plan, there are several groups which you can seek assistance from to clarify your ideas and assumptions and to ensure you have thought completely through your ideas.

  • Washington Small Business Development Center (WSBDC) Washington State University, Western Washington University, –
  • SCORE – Service Corps of Retired Executives – More information and links for small businesses than you can ever cover.
  • Skagit Valley College Business Resource Center – Mount Vernon WA – 360-416-7873 —
  • Guide for Small Businesses in Washington State – State programs and assistance for small business.
  • Doing Business in Washington – Good information and links –
  • Northwest Workforce Explorer analyzes the economic strength of different sectors, and assists in labor-related issues. The local representative is located at 540 Guard Street Suite 210 in Friday Harbor – 360-378-4662.
  • Northwest Agricultural Business Center – is a new resource for startups in the farming sector.

There are several that offer free services (always a good place to start), but if your idea is to proceed, it is not unusual to ultimately have to pay for advice as well.

Do you have sufficient capital?

There is the ole adage, “It takes money to make money”.  And this somewhat applies to new business ideas.  It is difficult (but not impossible) for new business ideas to be completely funded by outside means.  Usually, commercial financial sources require new business ideas to have some existing capital already available.  This can be your own collateral, maybe an Angel Investor, or a non-profit lender.  There are occasional examples of new business ideas obtaining financing with very little of their own capital – it just means a tougher job selling your idea, and your idea has to be much more clearly a winner.

It is best to discuss possible funding alternatives with folks as part of your planning and investigation well before actually submitting an application.  Here are some possible sources of funding and funding advice:

  • DownHome Washington – 425-743-9669 or 425-353-2025
  • Evergreen Community Development –
  • Commercial lenders that work with the Small Business Administration guarantee – – The SBA helps small businesses obtain needed capital by giving the government’s guaranty on loans made by commercial lenders.  The lender makes the loan, and SBA promises to repay up to 85% of any loss in case of default.  Most commercial banks in Western Washington and some non-bank commercial lenders participate in this program.

Confirm your plan

Okay, so you have your plan written, you have a pretty good understanding of sources for financing, you’ve reviewed your plan with some free consultants and friends and you think you are ready to go.  Now it is time to test your idea and plan.

First, make your pitch to a friend or two and seek feedback on your idea, your plan and your presentation.  Do you make a convincing case for your idea?

Second, go back to those free experts your engaged during the writing of your plan and now make them the pitch.  Can they poke any holes in you idea, plan or presentation?

Third, find a real target customer (or two or three or more) and pitch your plan to them.  Are they willing to buy what you propose to sell to them?  Does it meet one of their top needs at the present time?  It may be something they say they would love to have, but is it presently a priority need for them?  Do they have budget now (or in the near future) to solve this need?  Is this the “right time” for your product or service?

Finally, it is really helpful if you can interview someone (in another town, county, region) who is doing something similar to your business idea.  Ask them their experience, hurdles they faced, advice and insights.  Most people are usually helpful, as long as they don’t think you are going to compete with them in their business area.

Some folks to test your idea with:

  • SCORE – Service Corps of Retired Executives – More information and links for small businesses than you can ever cover.
  • Small Business Development Center – Western Washington University College of Business and Economics – 360-733-4014
  • Skagit Valley College Business Resource Center – Mount Vernon WA – 360-416-7873 –

Your local Chamber of Commerce can provide information on local and regional programs, small business initiatives and nonprofit activities, what prevailing wages are, who to consult for accounting or legal services, and current real estate vacancies…or for that matter, what existing business might be for sale.