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Business planning at your fingertips.

Automation can help you plan your association's future.

Have you ever thought about developing a business plan for your association? No, not a strategic long-range plan--an actual business plan.

A business plan spells out marketing strategies, operating plans, growth potential, financial forecasts, and other details. It is the implementation side of a strategic long-range plan and can represent an agreement between the association and its investors (its members) as to what will be accomplished, when, and at what cost.

I recently completed a business plan for my own association to complete the link between our future vision and our strategic long-range plan.

In my case, I decided on a five-year business plan with a three-year cycle. In other words, I anticipated revising my business plan every three years with two years of long-term projections. I included cash flow and income projections for each of the five years under the plan.

For each of the eight general objectives in my strategic long-range plan I developed up to eight strategic directions, designated them as short- or long-term, and integrated them into my business plan.

Now for the how ...

Were you beginning to think I wasn't going to address technology?

A number of software packages currently on the market can assist you in developing a business or marketing plan for your association. These packages can be easily installed on any DOS-based personal computer. (I recommend DOS level 3.0 or higher, and you should have at least two megabytes available on your internal disk drive. You can operate this software from disks, but it is slow and cumbersome without an internal drive.)

Most packages start by asking you a series of simple questions: What is the purpose of this plan? Are you going to use it for fund-raising? What type of business are you in?

Yes, a category does exist for service business such as associations. I indicated that the purpose of my business was the packaging and sale of information, which I reasoned was the purpose of many associations.

Next, you are asked about objectives and strategies. You guessed it: These come right off of the strategic long-range plan. In this section you are also asked to outline the current condition of your industry or profession. Finally, in regard to the management and ownership of your organization, you briefly outline the duties and responsibilities of your staff.

The next section of the software deals with unfulfilled needs. In essence, what is unique about the industry or profession that you serve? What part does your organization play in fulfilling its needs, and how is your organization unique in this role? The software asks you for pricing and value information; market research and marketing assumptions; market segments and how you are addressing them; the profile of the average member by segment; current market share and anticipated market share; and information on your competition. You are finally prompted to discuss your marketing strategies and any barriers to them.

The third major section of the software leads you through the development of operational plans. You are asked to forecast sales by product/service line; to establish your product/service positions by year; and to describe plans for advertising and promotion, sales, service and delivery, stocking, facilities, and personnel and administration.

The fourth and final section of the software is for your financial plans. You are asked to provide several key assumptions, such as membership growth, the basis on which your projections are based (income or accrual), and how you derived your operating expenses. Most software I reviewed allows you to use Lotus 123 spreadsheets or input using a word processing package. I deleted the income and cash flow statements required by the software and inserted my own, which I created in Lotus.

Once this final section is finished, the software informs you that you've completed your first business plan. Most of the planning software I looked at generates a table of contents and summary statements. There are also procedures for generating an executive summary, since many of your members will not want to wade through the detailed report you have generated.

Why endure such torture?

Completing all the questions posed by the software took approximately three weeks from start to finish. I also did not work on the plan every day, and I had my staff complete segments of it. However, the completion of this exercise by our staff gave us all a better picture of where we were going, how we were going to get there, and what "landmarks" we would visit along the way.

I presented the business plan to my board with the following statement: "I want you to read this as if you were investors in a business, because in effect that is exactly what you are." We are still in the process of refining and polishing the plan and will probably make several amendments when we complete the review process with the volunteer leadership.

I could have completed a business plan without a software package, but the package helped me think through all of my strategies. It also helped me coordinate my financial requirements with the details of my plan.

Software sources

The package I used was Success, Inc., by Dynamic Pathways Company. I purchased the package for less than $100 at a local software store. Many major software developers also have business plan writing programs. I recommend that you try such a package before investing in it.

Whether you are an association executive or a supplier, a business and marketing plan writer makes a great deal of sense. It is important to ask the right questions and to look at every answer in a variety of different ways before committing to a direction. Give it a try.

Maynard H. Benjamin, CAE, is executive vice president of the Envelope Manufacturers Association of America, Alexandria, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Annual Meeting Issue
Author:Benjamin, Maynard H.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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