Sketching the Way to Business Success: Working with Business Owners to Create a Visual Business Plan

It is a fundamental practice for any business to create a business plan and Village Enterprise funded businesses are no different. We believe in the importance of our business owners to think ahead and plan for the coming year’s business activities. During our training program, Business Mentors spend an entire module focused on business planning. The goal is to outline specific steps to help our business owners increase revenue and expand, such as conducting market and competitor research.

However, Village Enterprise faces a major challenge: How to create a business plan when some business owners cannot read or write? At Village Enterprise, 33% of our business owners cannot read and 31% cannot write. 17% of business owners have no formal education, 70% have primary education, and only 13% have some form of secondary education.

In response to this, the Village Enterprise field team launched a pilot called the Visual Business Plan. It was termed “visual” because business owners had the opportunity to draw out their business plan. We hoped that drawing would circumvent the literacy hurdle. But, who ever said drawing was easier than writing?

Thanks to Village Enterprise’s inclusive structure, feedback from the field boomerangs back to the office fast. Business owners told us that they could not draw their business plan. Others still drew their plan but months later had difficulty interpreting it. An analysis of the visual business plans on our data platform, Salesforce, confirmed these complaints.

The response to these implementation challenges exemplifies one of Village Enterprise’s top qualities: we are agile. Our team is constantly learning from the field and adapting quickly. The participants in our program are not just beneficiaries, they are our clients and we shape our program based on their needs.

This year, we are modifying our approach. We have developed templates for our business plans: one for agribusiness, one for livestock businesses, and one for retail and service businesses. These templates include pre-drawn images for all possible activities that business groups can partake in. The images include finding a business location, purchasing supplies, hiring employees, conducting market and competitor research, diversifying the business, marketing to new customers, and saving money.

The pre-drawn images incorporate best business practices including environmentally friendly options that encourage business owners to reflect on the type of activities they will employ. During the Visual Business Planning training, business owners will be asked to circle the images that they will participate in—much easier than drawing the image themselves.  They will also record which business activities correspond to which time of the year. They will save their Visual Business Plan in their record books and refer back to it during business group meetings.

In order to ensure this idea is successful at the field level, all of our images have been approved by our Field Coordinators. Moreover, the new Business Plan will be closely monitored in target villages through focus group discussions to make sure that our business owners find this business-planning tool helpful.

Being piloted in the next month, the Village Enterprise team is looking forward to seeing our visual plans come to life. According to Field Coordinator Nathaniel Maiyo, through the new Visual Business Plan, “objectives are attained for our illiterate business owners by meeting them where they are, on their level.”

A drawing of a woman planting

One image from the business plan agribusiness template that demonstrates planting. Drawing courtesy of Mina Hoti.

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