Starting a cooperative and developing a business plan: Phase 2

Having enough interest in starting a cooperative is just the first step, developing a viable business plan, when implemented, that meets the identified needs is the second.

In my first article on starting a cooperative I noted that the purpose of starting a cooperative was recognition of the need to solve problems or meet needs of the marketplace with goods or services. A steering committee should be formed to determine if there is data to support the feasibility of the cooperative. This committee should present its findings to potential members and let them make the decision to move forward with the development of a cooperative. The development of a business plan is then critical, as it will map out the necessary steps for a successful enterprise.

The feasibility study will lay the foundation for the business plan. It contains market information about the potential members’ usage and how a cooperative would differentiate itself from existing competition (if any). Additionally, financial viability and management expertise will be spelled out, as well as facilities needed and potential locations. Having this study prepared in an expert manner will insure the business plan is on solid footings moving forward.

The business plan is a road map to launching a cooperative and will allow the Board of Directors to know where they want to be and how to get there. Having a professional who is familiar with cooperatives to assist with the preparation of the business plan is a good idea and can avoid and voids problems in the future. It should include the preparation of three years’ projections (pro-forma) of cash flow, operating statements and beginning and year-end balance sheets. These will be used to paint the picture of the capital needs and potential sources of funds to meet the asset needed. Additionally financial planning should include funding the operating until profitable.

The steering committee should study the legal aspects of cooperatives and have an understanding of the duties necessary. At this point employment of legal counsel to develop the articles of incorporation, specific to the State should be undertaken. They can also assist with bylaw development and they should be in sync with the purpose and scope of how the cooperative will operate.

The steering committee should now be ready to hold a fourth member exploratory meeting. It is essential to have a large turnout of the identified potential members. Direct contact, newspaper articles, web postings and any other method of “spreading the word” about the meeting should not be overlooked. The meeting is conducted to present the business plan to potential members. The business plan will tell the story of the potential cooperative. Why the steering committee supports the development and how it will benefit the community of interest at large should be spelled out. Financial details regarding membership investment requirements should leave no doubt in the minds of the potential members that their assets will be at risk.

With full disclosure of the information regarding the risks and possible returns of the cooperative, the potential members conduct a vote to continue or not. If the vote is in the affirmative, the cooperative can hold its first meeting at which two items of business need to be conducted:

  1. Approve the bylaws
  2. Elect a Board of Directors

Michigan State University Extension educators working with the MSU Product Center’s Michigan Cooperative Development Center can provide assistance with helping guide groups of potential cooperatives through this process. 

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