Starting a business is no small thing. Over the years, I’ve started (or been involved in starting) at least a few, including Lunarbistro.com and Stumptown Comics, Inc. Normally they were as simple as getting a dba account at the bank, and paying an annual license fee to the state. The most complex one was getting the Stumptown Comics organization incorporated. But none of those businesses involved seeking funding, or developing any sort of a business plan. In both cases I felt a business plan was unnecessary – the freelance design business was so simple in structure, and Stumptown (while considerably more complex) had been well-established and fairly well-defined by example. When I started the process of thinking about this brewery, though, I knew I wanted to do this one differently.

Starting a brewery was going to require a source of outside funding, which would mean convincing someone else that I knew what I was doing, and that this was a viable business idea. It was obvious to me that the best way to determine whether this was even a good idea or not, was to write up what I wanted to do, how I thought I could make it succeed, and above all, to show my work. I took a crash course in writing a business plan, helped tremendously by the ‘Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery’ volume published by the Brewers Association, and within a few months I had what looked like a promising, viable plan for starting the tiniest commercial brewery possible. I see now, having gone through stages of defining and refining the idea of the business through the process of writing up the plan, how fundamentally important a tool the business plan is to understanding the business at every level, and how much easier it’s made it for me to tell other people about the business.

After getting some feedback from a couple friends with more extensive business experience than I have, I was almost ready to take it to the bank. But first, I decided that I needed a second opinion. Enter SCORE.

SCORE is an organization made up entirely of volunteers, retired business leaders and entrepreneurs, whose entire goal is mentoring folks like me to get our businesses where we want them to be. In my case, I wanted someone to help me get past my fear of being laughed out of the bank and becoming disheartened. I arrived for my first consultation there this morning, and left feeling better about the shape of my plan and its thoroughness than I have in weeks. I have a much better sense now of what the banks I’ll soon be talking to are going to look for in my plan and presentation, and to which areas of my plan I’ll need to pay more attention to. I realized what areas of the business I hadn’t fully thought through, and I know better how to address the weaknesses inherent in any startup. I’m not as worried now about the modest, conservative growth rate in my profit & loss projections, and I’m reassured that the plan I’m formulating for the business in general is attractive to potential investors.

SCORE offers their business counseling services for free, and they are usually able to even set you up with counselors with experience in the field you’re planning to enter. I would recommend to any entrepreneur with questions about their business, or even someone just looking for a new pair of eyes, to get in touch with SCORE asap. The Portland office, at least, offers a huge catalog of printed resources and drop-in hours, and after your initial consult you can set appointments with counselors, all for free. It’s a priceless service, and you’d be a fool not to take advantage of it.

As for me, my next step is polishing the final draft of this plan, and making an appointment with an SBA lender.