Singing in the Rain: Or, How Writing a Business Plan is Not that Scary

From Sam Shain: Director of Inter-co-op Communication, CoFED relations and Grant Writing; Haverford College Food Co-op The Beet Goes On!

I was intimidated to begin writing what is now a 45-page-long opus of a business plan, that couldn’t have gotten to its current stage of completion if not for amazing teamwork and collaboration with another Beet Director. Ben and I set out to write this document as a final project for a clustered set of courses that focused on Perspectives of Sustainability, and we had no idea where that would take us. We were writing and refining the plan as others in the co-op were gearing up and launching our third pilot project: developing a relationship with a co-op of local farms, and having them deliver shares to campus, while at the same time, mobilizing the campus community to support these farms and invest in local, sustainable food for next semester. There was goal setting, community organizing and affirming happening all over the place. We found the boundaries of this community and started pushing them. We also pushed against our own — where we thought our limits and abilities tapered off — and created work that is amazing and revolutionary.

We began the business plan project with the blank template that CoFED had offered us, and a long way to go. We had already conducted our market research and had 305 responses to work with. We had a mission statement, a statement of purpose, a website and a year’s worth of organizing. With that, a few weeks, no forecast and sturdy rainboots, the two of us jumped into a Google doc and started filling in what we knew, and making up what we didn’t. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that simple. What we knew were the shopping habits of our community, the location of the local stores, the structure that we wanted for the co-op and a few shreds of strategic planning. What we didn’t know was market research about the local stores, the way we were structuring membership, ownership and leadership, the calculations of working hours and energy consumption of the co-op, our start-up costs and long-term strategic planning, and the text that was going to serve as a blueprint for how this generation of leaders (directors) and the next few will conduct themselves. We knew the levity of writing this document, and wanted to be as prepared as possible, as if prepping for a thunderstorm — blankets, food, tea, rain slickers, good company — all the usual things. We didn’t know when (or if) the storm would hit little apartment 31 on Hannum Drive, but we were ready to face the worst.

But surprisingly, the sun shined most of the way through the process! And when it did start to rain, instead of retreating into safe cover and pitching umbrellas, we had no choice but to face it squarely. We wrote more essays, provided more context and dug deeper into our analyses in response to the insistence of our professors. We got a little muddy at times, but we had the support of CoFED staff and folks from GW, UCLA, Chatham and UCSB cheering us on. We found allies in unexpected places on and off campus and we wrote more than we had thought possible in just 2 weeks. And unlike most writing assignments, where I begin feeling like I don’t how how to start or what to argue, we had relevant details and extensive training from the start to be able to approach this project with expertise and joviality. Writing the business plan was a privilege and a chance to really grapple with some central co-op logistics and values. It was an amazing way to contribute to a project that we really believe in, with the support of the rest of the leaders and directors. It was also a way to express how far we’ve come in the past year, from a cluster of post-its on the wall of our apartment, to a living document full of rich information, graphics, statistics, history, narrative and criticism. Writing the business plan, at least for us, wasn’t scary. It was an opportunity and an exciting one! As we prepare to formally present it to our community, I can’t help but think that this whole affair is like tapdancing in a rainstorm — making fun out of stress and expressing ourselves because are passionate, prepared and empowered, despite unpredictable obstacles and weather patterns. Join in the fun! For more information about the work we’ve been up to, check out our website @ thebeetgoeson.weebly.com

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