How to Write an Operational Plan for Your Business
In most cases, entrepreneurs begin tackling the challenge of writing a business plan before the business exists. Doing that, of course, means that your plan will focus much more on the potential of the business and how you, as the entrepreneur, plan to take advantage of those opportunities. But, if you are writing a business plan for a 192-year-old business that you’ve just acquired, like Sean Bandawat did in 2010, with the intent to turn a money-losing operation into a cash cow, you’ll need to focus on an area neglected in many business plans produced by entrepreneurs: the Operating Plan.
The operating plan is the section of your business plan where you dig into more of the nuts and bolts of your business, areas like: production/manufacturing, inventory, and distribution. In other words, this is the time where you put aside the conceptual aspects of your business to get your hands dirty in terms of writing out the specific of how you’re going to make your product, store it, and then ship it out to your customers.
The topic you cover in your operational plan will vary based on the kind of business you run. For instance, if you are starting a retail business, you will want to think about things like inventory and distribution while a software company may be more focused on securing office space and computer equipment. Again, the point is that you need to think about the kinds of details you’ll be facing from the day you open the doors of your business.
Take it from Bandawat, who, as an undergraduate business student at the University of Southern California, crafted a business plan that involved turning around the operations of Jacob Bromwell, a specialty housewares company that has been continuously manufacturing authentic campfire, kitchen, and fireplace products for families since 1819. Bandawat, who comes from a family of successful entrepreneurs, teamed up with his longtime friend, Eric Stanton, to tap money from friends and family to buy Jacob Brownwell. But before they closed the deal in May 2010—just after Bandawat graduated—they wrote a business plan that won top undergraduate honors from the USC Marshall School of Business.
The challenge for Bandawat and Stanton was that they wanted to continue to leverage the “Made in America” nature of their new company's products, which range from campfire popcorn poppers to chestnut roasters. That meant that, in crafting their operational plan, they needed to come up with specific strategies and actions they planned to take. “Taking over a business with 192 years of history presented very different challenges than creating a business from scratch,” says Bandawat. “So we relied on our advisory team to come up with a direction to take the company in.”
The key decision Bandawat and Stanton made in changing the operations of their business was to close the factory the company had been using in Michigan City, Indiana, and move the specialized equipment to a contract manufacturing facility in Glendale, California.
Bandawat and Stanton agreed to share their operational business plan with us as an example of how you, too, can come up with one for your business. You’ll see how they focused on concepts like operational efficiency, who their suppliers are, and how they planned to sell to new customers. “The key is to put something down and then start executing on it,” says Stanton. “And you’ll need to keep changing and updating it as you go and learn. You won’t know everything from the start.”
Darren Dahl is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, North Carolina.