A Business Plan for Beekeepers1

A Business Plan for Beekeepers

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If you plan to open a beekeeping business — whether as a part-time or retirement activity to bring in some extra money or as a full-time operation at which you hope to make a living — you should prepare a business plan. You will need such a plan if you need to borrow money to get your business going — any lending institution will require it. But even if you’re keeping things small-scale and have the cash you need to get started, a business plan will help you focus on what you need to do. A business plan is like a roadmap, a document that lays out your goals and specifies concrete steps you need to take to achieve those goals. You can always refer to this roadmap if you reach an impasse in your business development.

Beekeeping is an agricultural business, and as such is subject to many of the same vagaries that traditional farmers face. Inclement weather will have adverse effects on your beekeeping business. Diseases and predators can ravage your bee colonies; through good management you can often stave off disease, but often events can spin out of control. There is much concern worldwide about colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon that is as yet only partially understood. Because of these factors, a lending institution will examine your qualifications very closely before agreeing to lend you money, and a strong business plan is one of the best ways to project confidence that you know what you’re doing.

A well-thought-out and well-drafted business plan is not a replacement for knowledge about beekeeping, skill in building hives and caring for bees, or entrepreneurial ability. However, a good plan can help you identify possible pitfalls, and also help identify special areas of opportunity. A plan should clearly state your expectations for your business — the profits you hope to make, the number of hives you wish to keep, what activities you intend to develop to make a profit (selling honey? bee byproducts? renting hives for pollination?), how many employees if any you intend to hire, and so on. In your plan, you will project real dollar figures for anticipated expenses and profits, on a seasonal or even month-by-month basis. You can then use your plan in the coming months and years to keep on track, and compare real progress with anticipated progress.

Some questions to ask before drafting your plan include: What is the purpose of your business (in monetary terms as well as personal achievement terms)? How will you market your products? Do you have the necessary skills to operate a beekeeping business? What knowledge do you have about beekeeping in your area, and what competition do you face? How much cash do you need to get started, and where will the funds come from? Do you have the time it will take to achieve your goals? Your plan should set out to answer three basic questions: Where are you now? Where do you want to go? How will you get there?

A Business Plan for Beekeepers

A Business Plan for Beekeepers

A business plan for beekeepers should be organized much like business plans for other kinds of operations. Generally, you would have a table of contents; a business profile and summary; a section detailing the organization of your business; a statement of specific goals; a marketing plan; a management and labor plan; a production plan; a financial plan; and a chart detailing benchmarks and targets. Some of these sections may require very little detail; if you will operate the business by yourself or with a single partner, management and labor will not be a primary concern. You will, however, need to demonstrate that you and your partner have the time and ability to do all the work involved.

The business profile and summary can be short, but should specify a timeline (are you looking ahead five years?) and should state in general terms what you intend to do (operate 500 beehives for honey production, gradually expanding into other hive products). You should also outline the highlights of your marketing plan, production plan, and financial plan. This section needs only a page or two, but should draw in the reader’s attention.

The business organization section should outline the details of your business with information such as name and address; type of business (sole proprietorship?); licenses or permits needed or already obtained; the names and titles of owners, managers, and employees; and business history, if any. The following goals section should be a measurable, time-specific, realistic statement of action. You should develop a mission statement: a statement of purpose that indicates the overarching philosophy of your business. As the owner, what are your personal long-term goals in operating a beekeeping business? Long-term goals may be to pay off personal debt, set aside retirement funds, or contribute to your community’s diversity by offering new products. Short-term goals may be more specific to beekeeping: developing a wax craft sideline, taking a beemaster course, diversifying into breeding, and the like.

The marketing plan gets into the meat of your overall business plan. You should identify your target customers, as well as any competitors. What is the demand for your products (whether honey, wax products, or pollinators-for-hire), and how will you get these products to market (your own stall? through local health food stores? How will you advertise? Will you develop your own brand? You should also discuss pricing information, and any competitive advantages you have over competitors with regard to pricing or quality.

The production plan covers details about your operations. If you plan to maintain 500 hives, how will you purchase these? All at once or over time? What other equipment do you need, and how much will it cost? All capital expenditures should be listed. Also, you should project your production schedule over at least a five-year period; if honey production will be your primary revenue source, how many pounds of honey do you anticipate harvesting, at what income to you? There may be some guesswork involved, but back up your projections with reasonable methodology.

The management and labor plan specifies all the tasks that will need doing, and who will be responsible for completing these tasks. Even if you are operating a one- or two-person business, project the number of hours or days each month that will be required for each specific task. This valuable exercise may indicate whether you are taking on more work than you can manage; you may need to budget in an extra staff person.

Finally, the financial plan puts dollar figures on projected expenditures and income. Draw up a spreadsheet projecting these figures for five years. Again, this will involve some guesswork, but will force you to be realistic about your expectations. Specify where any needed funding will come from. If possible, you should prepare projected financial statements as well: a balance sheet, a profit-and-loss statement, and a cash-flow projecting. If you are unfamiliar with these specific statements, it may be worthwhile to hire an accountant to help you prepare them.

You can conclude your business plan by providing key targets. For instance, how much honey do you aim to produce annually by a certain time in the future — say, five years down the road? If you will have business-related debt, how quickly do you anticipate paying it off? And what level of revenue are you aiming to reach after five years?

With a well-prepared business plan, lenders will look seriously at your proposal, and you will be more likely to secure a loan on good terms. Even if you don’t need a loan, a business plan is an important document in helping you maintain control over the development of your beekeeping business. With careful forethought and preparation, you can develop an effective business plan.