#34 Business Planning

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What is a Business Plan?

A business plan is a document that summarizes the operational and financial objectives of a business and contains the detailed plans and budgets showing how the objectives are to be realized.  Developing a business plan is essential to begin to analyze if your idea for a farm is realistic, achievable and in what time frame. Additionally, a business plan is often required to receive bank loans to start your business or convince private investors to invest in your farm.  Whether you plan to setting up a not-for-profit or for-profit urban farm, a business plan is essential in planning the organization and laying our a strategic approach to getting started. A good business plan contains the following:

  • Resumé or brief explanation of your background and relevant experience
  • Information on your legal structure and management team
  • Current balance sheet
  • Your business vision, mission statement, key values, and goals
  • Production plans
  • Marketing plans
  • Estimated start-up costs
  • A projected income statement with a written explanation of your budget assumptions
  • A projected balance sheet with a written explanation of your budget assumptions
  • A sensitivity analysis showing the business’s break-even point
  • A one-to-two-page executive summary if your business plan is long (more than 10 pages)


Helpful Publications for Writing a Business Plan

The NY FarmLink’s publication, Starting an Agricultural Business?, is a pre-planning guide to help beginning farmers focus their thoughts before writing a business plan and is available online at https://dyson.cornell.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2022/04/Cornell_StartingAgBizPrePlanning2021_e-VD-2.pdf or by calling (800) 547-3276.
The Sustainable Agriculture Research Education (SARE) publication, Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses, includes sample worksheets and exercises to help beginning farmers develop a business plan and is available for free download or for purchase online at http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Building-a-Sustainable-Business.

Getting Help Writing a Business Plan

Cornell Cooperative Extension offices often staff a farm management or small business development educator who can help you develop a business plan.  The type of programming in each county is unique, however, and you should contact your local office, which can be found online at https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/contact/local-contacts/.
NY FarmNet (www.nyfarmnet.org) has business plan writing publications in addition to several farm counselors throughout the state who offer free and confidential help on any topic of concern, including finances, farm changes, farm transfer, natural disaster, personal stress, family communication, and marital conflict.
The New York State Small Business Development Center (www.nyssbdc.org) is a network of 23 regional centers delivering business counseling and training free of charge to New Yorkers who want to start a business or improve the performance of an existing business.
The New York State License Center Business Wizard website (https://www.its.ny.gov/nys-license-center-business-wizard) will help you find the New York State business permits you may need.
The Empire State Development’s Entrepreneurial Assistance Program (https://esd.ny.gov/entrepreneurship-assistance-centers) is part of New York State’s economic development agency and has 9 centers across the state to provide specialized help to women, minority group members and persons with disabilities who are starting or operating an early stage business.
The Federal Small Business Association (https://www.sba.gov/offices/district/ny/new-york) is a federal agency with offices throughout the state providing counseling services and loan guarantees.  They have a special emphasis area to work with women, minorities, veterans, and businesses involved in international trade.
SCORE (www.score.org) is a non-profit organization offering free advice and training using experienced volunteers.  Check their website for chapters in your area.
The Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming, based in Ithaca, NY, offers an eight-session Farm Business Planning Course, in collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and Alternatives Federal Credit Union’s Business CENTS (Community Enterprise Network and Training Services).  This course covers assessing resources, enterprise planning basics, financial planning and marketing.  Visit http://www.groundswellcenter.org/ or contact info@groundswellcenter.org or (607) 319-5095 for more information.
Cornell Small Farms offers 5-7 week long interactive, online business planning courses for farmers on topics such as marketing, financial planning and general business planning. Visit https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/online-courses/
The Greenhorn’s Guide is a unique resource for young, beginning farmers – not specific to urban farming. The goal of the publication is to help young people make the transition into a career of farming. It is a compilation of references about farming, including where to find an apprenticeship to how to preserve food and repair a tractor. An important aspect of the guide is that it seeks to forge a connection between young farmers and older farmers who are more experienced and can act as mentors. www.thegreenhorns.net.
Business Planning Resources for Urban Farmers
For urban-specific business planning information, “The Urban Farm Business Plan Handbook” from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities provides a framework for developing an urban farm on cleaned brownfields or vacant sites, and includes guidance on marketing, operating, and financial strategies.  This handbook and affiliated worksheets are available for free download at https://www.epa.gov/brownfields/resources-about-brownfields-and-urban-agriculture.
Various urban farming educational programs such as Just Food’s Farm School NYC (see Factsheet #50, General Resources) also provide information on urban farm business planning.  Contact individual organizations for details.

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