Guest Post: Formulating your Business Plan

In this blog post John Dawson, Development Manager at Locality, writes about the recent Business Planning Webinar that he hosted for the network and gives some insights into developing a business plan for your community managed library.

Back at the end of 2017 we ran a webinar for community libraries on business planning. Despite the pre-Christmas haze we had a great turnout and some interesting questions, all pertinent as we looked ahead to last week’s community managed libraries conference in Sheffield.

The idea of business plans sounds daunting to many, either writing them or reading them. At Locality we regularly help communities solve common issues, think through their long term objectives and start to make moves towards realising their ambitions.

We don’t always start with the concept of a ‘traditional business plan’, as this has connotations about lengthy and dry documents that take an age to create. Instead we talk to people about their ideas, get people discussing the issues in a structured way, and start to capture some of the headlines. This process of business planning gets key individuals discussing complex ideas, gets disagreement out into the open, and ultimately gets them on the same page about the future direction.

Community libraries can have some strong Unique Sales Points (space, captive audience, volunteer numbers, local reputation, footfall and location) but these need identifying and to some degree monetising with innovative new services to create the income that will sustain the whole operation. We encourage communities to think more broadly than ‘just’ a library, and consider how to identify and meet broader community needs, to become a multi-purpose community business, or community hub. This often requires diversification, new ‘markets’ (paying customers – which could be funders, individuals, donors, businesses etc.) and new higher margin products (activities that create surpluses to reinvest in the whole enterprise). A planned move from a pre-revenue service where everything is ‘free’ (funded by one customer – the local council) to a freemium offer where activities are funded by a growing number of customers. None of this has to be at the expense of maintaining high quality library services.

Sometimes a simple tool to structure discussion, or some external facilitation can really help to bring out different ideas and help move towards a common direction. It can also help to park time consuming and detailed operational issues that in the bigger scheme of things are less important. Start with the vision and mission and build from there.

The information gathered through business planning needs organising and can form different ‘plans’, for different audiences. The level and type of detail you would want to tell volunteers, trustees, funders and investors about your future ambitions will all vary.

As such, business plans should have a defined purpose. The purpose will influence how the plan will look. Remain realistic, a plan should meet its purpose but might not meet every purpose.

An internal development document, that you use as a management tool to monitor progress can be a highly effective business plan for your purposes. Trustees and management can use it to guide priorities and development towards your long term mission. However, it might be lacking in the detail that an investor or funder would wish to see… but that detail can sometimes be too much for a useful day-to-day management tool.

Be creative with your business plans and find something that works for you and the reader. A business plan should convince the reader that you have a destination and a clear route to get there. However, remember that opportunities come and go and not everything can be planned for. Therefore be open to changing circumstances and updating plans with new activities that fit your values and work towards your vision.

A recording of the webinar and a number of webinar resources can be found on our Resources page.


CML News: Free workshop, network opportunity and one week to conference!

Income Generation and Fundraising Workshop date announced

The network is hosting an Income Generation and Fundraising Workshop on Wednesday 2nd May at Upper Norwood Library Hub in London. This FREE face to face workshop will be delivered by Mick McGrath, Development Officer at Locality and will cover the following:

  • Sources of funding;
  • How to present your application;
  • How to set your budget;
  • Sweating your assets, good practice but also ideas for how to;
  • Different types of funding e.g. restricted, unrestricted, bridge funding, grants, commissioning as well as public sector, lottery, trusts and foundations, corporate giving, sponsorships;
  • Key stages in the application process e.g. preparation, application, receipt of funds, project delivery, reporting.

You can bring along a grant/fundraising application you are planning or working on. More information and booking here. And don’t forget, details of all our upcoming learning events can be found on our Events page.


Online Centres Network

Does your library empower and enable at least 3 people per month to improve their digital skills, employability, and/or health and wellbeing? If so then you may want to check out The Online Centres Network. Their mission is to ensure that everyone can benefit from digital, and they are looking for organisations who want to join their movement to improve skills and confidence and help people thrive in a digital world. If your library can provide a welcoming space for your community members, a supportive learning experience and/or access to the internet for your learners then Online Centres Network are asking for you to join them.

They offer free membership to their network and can support community managed libraries in a number of ways including access to a dedicated Network Specialist, access to their free online platform, networking and collaboration events and training opportunities. You can find out more here


Have you completed the Community Managed Libraries Survey yet?

The Community Managed Libraries Peer Network includes libraries from the full spectrum of CMLs, from independently funded libraries to those who receive local authority support. The peer network offers its members networking, information sharing and shared learning opportunities. It is the voice for CMLs nationally when talking to government, policy makers and funders.

We carried out our first survey in April 2017 to identify what CMLs want from a national peer network. Feedback we received revealed shared interests and goals and demonstrated the importance of having access to advice and support. We have since implemented webinar based and face to face learning events, a dedicated blog site, newsletter and networking sessions for CMLs.

We want to build on this initial feedback and hear your ideas for developing and sustaining the network, growing its membership and capturing examples of good practice to share with others.

This short survey should take no more than 10 minutes to complete. Even if you are not currently a member of the CML peer libraries network, this survey is still relevant to you and we would like to hear to hear your views. Click here to begin the survey.


One week to Conference!

We’re very excited about our first Community Managed Libraries National Conference next week. We have a great selection of speakers, workshops, surgeries and table discussions packed into the day and we can’t wait to meet everyone. Whether you are able to attend on the day or not you will be able to access all the conference resources on the Resources page of our blog shortly after the event plus we will be tweeting on the day via the @CommunityLibs Twitter account.