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Planning your social enterprise: The business plan
How To
by David LePage
on March 08, 2011

PlanningYou’ve finished the feasibility study; now it’s either move forward with the business plan or reassess your idea. Don’t forget, if the feasibility study indicated the enterprise idea won’t work, either as a business or as a means to deliver on your mission, that is good to know now, not later! Better to stop at this stage in planning than to go forward with an idea that will only drain you or set you up for failure.


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However, when you complete the feasibility study for your social enterprise and it says the business idea will work, then it’s time to move on with the business planning process. Now it’s another big and potentially daunting challenge ahead: “How will the enterprise actually work? Where will you get the financing to start it up? How will you measure success, for the business and for your social mission? What’s your marketing strategy?” These and a lot of other questions still need to be developed in detail. That’s called the business plan.

The business plan takes the feasibility study and other research you’ve done and turns it into an operating plan. The business plan has defined goals, effective strategies and the measurements for success. The business plan should be your road map for engaging stakeholders for financing and purchasing, for identifying staffing needs and operating guidelines, and for achieving both your social and business success.

Road under construction

A social enterprise business plan is a unique type of document and process. You’re developing the goals, tasks and measurements for a blended-value business, and you will be defining what and how you will measure the business success, the social success and, if applicable, the impacts on the parent organization as well. The business plan has to reflect this blend of business and social objectives.

Some of the specific questions that the business plan has to address include the following:

  • Define your product or service. What are you selling?

  • Define your social goals. What is your social mission?

  • Identify your market opportunity. Who will buy your product or service?

    - Who is your customer? How will you reach them?

  • Explain your business model. Non-profit? Charity? Co-op? For-profit? Hybrid?

    - How will you structure the social enterprise?

  • Explain your operations plan. How will it work day-to-day?

    - Who is your team? Management and staff? Location?

  • Explain how you will meet your blended social and business objectives. What are your measurements? (See www.demonstratingvalue.org)

  • Outline your financial plan. What do the numbers say?

    - Start up costs, projected income and expenses and projected cash flow.


It’s important to engage everyone across your organization in this planning process, including board, management, staff and other key stakeholders as appropriate for your organization. While you’re building the business plan it’s good to remember what Guy Kawasaki advises in his book The Art Of The Start: “The document itself is not nearly as important as the process that leads to the document.”

The business plan is a living document, a map to be referred to and used. As the business moves forward, the business plan should be updated, adjusted, and adapted to meet changing market conditions and opportunities.

For more detail, see Chapter 5, Planning Your Social Enterprise, in enp’s The Canadian Social Enterprise Guide. www.enterprisingnonprofits.ca.

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David LePageDavid LePage is the program manager of Enterprising Non-Profits, enp, a unique collaboration of funders who provide support for social enterprise development. He is also a member of the Social Enterprise Council of Canada, and the Policy Council for Canadian Community Economic Development (CCEDNet).


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