The Small Business Association (SBA) states that a Business Plan is “an essential roadmap for business success.” This plan defines the present and projects the future by outlining a plan for growth.
A company business plan might include an Executive Summary, (this should “stand alone” as a document), Company Description, Market Analysis, Organization and Management, Services or Products offered, Marketing and Sales data, and Funding and Financial Projections.
A FIRST team is like a business, with revenues, expenses, stakeholders, goals, objectives, risks, and plans for the future. FIRST teams have products.
The FIRST Guidelines for a Business Plan to support the Entrepreneurship are available on the FIRST website under the Awards section.
Cyber Blue’s 2012 Business Plan is available here.
Cyber Blue’s Guide and Template for creating a Business Plan is available for you to use as a guide.
Many businesses, large and small, have created “Risk Analysis” plans of action to allow them to continue operations in case of a major event that could threaten their business. These events could include major power outages, tornado’s, floods and other natural disasters, financial events, labor issues and the loss of key leaders. Some plans include actions such as backup computer systems, generators, phone calling lists and the creation of multiple work sites to reduce the risks to ongoing operations.
In a similar way, FIRST Robotics teams face “Team Continuity” risks that could threaten the long term viability of the team and the program. Some of these risks can be alleviated, others can be managed, and others still must simply be accepted. For FIRST teams, these risks are real, and evidence can be seen by the number of teams that are active for 1 or 2 years, or more, and then seem to disappear overnight, taking with them the unique opportunities for FIRST students. Over the past few years, many strong, “veteran” teams have faced significant challenges as their major sponsors faced economic uncertainty.
Cyber Blue has incorporated their “Team Continuity Plan” into their Business Plan. The plan includes Risks and Actions to address those risks. To obtain a copy of our plan, click here.
To develop your own Continuity or Risk Management Plan, a brainstorming session is often a good way to begin. Start by reading other continuity plans to generate ideas of what to include. Then discuss similar or unique challenges for your own team.
Our plan also includes a scoring methodology. Risks are rated based on Probability and Impact (both rated 1, 2 or 3, with 3 being the higher Probability or Impact). A Risk Score is generated by multiplying the two numbers, and the higher the Score, the more attention should be paid to the risk. There are no guarantees, but it is believed that the implementation of these ideas will help the team weather difficult times when they appear.
Risks are written as a specific statement. Impacts are identified and state what would happen to the team if the Risk were to come true. The next step is to then identify Actions to try to reduce or remove the risk.
A sample is listed below – this is a risk that is shared by many FIRST Teams (possibly all teams at some level).
RISK: Loss of a Major Corporate Sponsor
Likelihood: 2 (Medium)
Impact Level: 2 (Medium)
Risk Score: 4 (Major)
Impact on Team: Would attend fewer regional competitions. Limited team travel. Increase costs to mentors and students. Reduced or restricted fall projects. Reduced support of school groups. Increased team fundraisers.
Actions (To Minimize Probability and Impact): Continue to do demonstrations at sponsors to highlight our program. Send sponsor thank-you letters and posters. Maintain a diversified sponsor base by continuing community sponsor activity. Retain enough money in the bank to pay for one event entry fee at the end of each season. Strive to be a role model of team behavior and community presence. Maintain careful budgeting. Look into the future with our budget planning.
How to Get Sponsors
Developing and maintaining a strong sponsor base is important for the continued success of your team. This presentation package contains several ideas and helpful hints for how to identify, attract, recognize, and maintain your sponsors. You can view the presentation here.
Sponsor "Thank You"
Sponsor “Thank You” notes are a very important way to show all sponsors they are appreciated and needed. Personal notes about what you are learning are an added plus to make the sponsor feel good about their investment. You should also include in these “Thank You” notes a brief explanation of why they are being thanked, and invitations to any competitions, open house or special events.
Even if your handwriting is not the best, go the “old fashion” route and hand write the thank you notes. Do not skip over relatives when sending out thank you cards!
Thank You cards can be purchased from the store or designed with your logo or Team photo.
At the end of the season don’t forget to send out a final thank you with a note about how the Team did and what you learned. Thank them for sponsoring you and tell them you hope they can sponsor you next season.
Setting Goals and Expectations
- Be reasonable and realistic, but do not underestimate yourself.
- Don’t let pride get in your way.
- Use the chassis that FIRST gives you.
- Ask for help from other teams.
- Set goals that are more than one year goals (multiple tier goals).
- Document your goals.
- Set milestones for your goals.
- Consider using technology based scheduling programs to track projects.