Setting up a Business Plan for Your Classroom Business
At a Glance
Crafting a detailed classroom business plan tailored to students' interests and goals.
Aligning business roles with students' IEP objectives for skill development and growth.
Utilizing the business model to foster student engagement and secure school or district approval.
Welcome back to our ongoing series on creating a classroom business within the framework of focusing on meeting student goals.
In part 1 of this series we looked at some reasons why starting a business might be beneficial to students meeting their IEP goals.
In part 2 we identified some of the forms classroom businesses can take and what types of goals they might be most conducive to meeting.
In part 3 we talked about some approaches to surveying class interests to inform what business might seem like the best fit while staying within the parameters of what is feasible for you as the teacher to ensure it will run smoothly.
Today we are honing in on how to take all you have learned about your classroom’s interests and set a concrete business plan. In the process of setting your business plan, you may find that accounting for the realities of the project as a whole impacts what choices you are able to make. That is a perfectly normal part of the process of setting a plan and is exactly why we want to take this step before we put anything in motion.
A classic example is getting excited about selling or producing a particular product only to find that securing the necessary supplies is not feasible within your budget. In that spirit you may find it helpful to try to go through these steps in order, but you may also find that you have to go back and readjust.
With that in mind let’s talk about some of the details you should consider when setting your final business plan!
What is your core business model and what is your product?
This is perhaps your most straightforward question and an important one to be able to answer concisely, but it is also a question that is impacted by all of the other details we will be covering in this post.
It is important to lay out exactly what you intend to sell and the process by which your business will function. Not only is it important to be clear how your business will work, it is also important when seeking school buy-in so that decision makers can account for potential resources they may need to set aside for your business to function as intended.
Setting up a small shop near the cafeteria for example might require the school to reserve that space while a business focused on taking orders and filling them at a later date might need to offer some warning to other teachers so they can prepare for a brief disruption to class time. It is great to lay out your vision as early as possible and go back and adjust later if you find the model you wanted just isn’t going to work the way you need it to.
This is also a stage where it can be great to have a business name but it’s also not necessary at this step - it is understandable that you may want to seek out administrative approval of your plan before you ask students to commit their time to those types of details.
Our class business will sell small chocolate boxes to be delivered on Valentine’s Day. Students will take orders in the week leading up to the 14th and we will order an equivalent number of boxes from Russell-Stover. The boxes will be delivered to the named recipient by students on the 14th.
Our class business will sell holiday ornaments in three styles. Students will take orders during the first two weeks of November and students will produce ornaments to fill the orders leading up to winter break. Products will be delivered to recipients the day before winter break.
Our class business will sell snacks to students during the morning lunch period. Our students will set up a table outside the cafeteria and sell bottled water, Snickers, Starburst, Kit Kats, Nature Valley Granola Bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and an assortment of bagged chips from Frito-Lays bulk packaging.
Students will bring inventory and supplies from the classroom and retrieve the table with the help of the maintenance staff, then at the end of the lunch period return the table with the help of maintenance staff and bring all products and supplies back to the classroom.
What supplies do you need? What is your budget?
In this space we are accounting for the supplies we will need to make the business function, from a folding table to display merchandise to store inventory to the component parts of a crafting product.
For some business models you may have the luxury of being able to collect money ahead of time, in which case it is very important to know how much money you need to collect to cover your supply costs! In other cases you may need a budget to cover a basic inventory but would count on subsequent sales to provide money to refill inventory as needed.
Most crucially if you are relying on a special piece of equipment like a popcorn machine or a Keurig it is important to clearly identify the cost or demonstrate that you can secure one without having to buy it. While it is important to be as accurate as possible, it also helps to leave a little bit of wiggle room for unexpected changes in price.
To make an estimated 96 candy cane dippers we need 3 two pound packages of jet puffed marshmallows ($12), 1 jumbo package of mini candy canes ($8), 2 packages of chocolate chips ($6), parchment paper ($5) microwave safe bowls and stirring spoons (provided by me). Our total starting budget is an estimated $31. If demand is higher than expected we can use our initial sales to secure more supplies.
We will use our starting budget of $200 to buy cases of Snickers, Kit Kats, Starburst, Skittles, and an assortment of potato chips. When we sell enough candy from one case to match the cost of buying that case we can buy another to replenish our inventory. The cost of purchasing each bar is approximately $1 and we will be selling them for $2.
Our popcorn business requires a popcorn maker with a serving scoop(provided by a parent), unpopped popcorn ($10), popcorn oil ($6), powdered salt ($4), bags for distributing popcorn ($6 for a 100 pack), and seasonings for customers to add ($15 for a variety of flavors). Our starting budget is approximately $35-$40.
What roles are students filling? What IEP goals are they meeting?
This is the space where you are going to need to align the needs of the business with the roles that are most beneficial to your students. After all, the primary purpose of this exercise is to put students in a position to practice skills that help them advance toward meeting their goals!
Depending on your class you may find you have a higher proportion of students who have social focused goals, goals oriented around establishing routines and following procedures, goals focused on working within a team, or goals more aligned with executive functioning and abstract problem solving.
While you are unlikely to find an exact neat fit where every student is always focusing on their primary goal, you can try to skew decisions toward meeting the makeup of your class and ensuring that all students get a reasonable amount of time with the roles most relevant to them.
Here are some examples of the types of goals you might be filling in your business depending on which models you choose:
This role is a highly social one and is all about interacting with potential customers to inquire if they would like to order one of your products. As we mentioned in part 2 of this series, it is a very common fundraising model in youth organizations to put most kids in the role of making sales and taking orders and outsourcing the actual product creation to an outside company. If most of your students have IEP goals oriented around socializing, it may help to skew toward business models with lots of sales-focused roles.
This is both a fantastic role for creative decision-making and a great space to include a team that comes to decisions together and delegates based on the strengths of its members. While a business must be more than its branding, if lots of students seem like a good fit for this role it is the type of job that can be worked on ahead of time so that everyone gets a chance to try it without taking away from the core function of the business.
Managing inventory, supply, and cashflow (sales and costs)
For some classrooms managing inventory may be a detail that the teacher covers to ensure that the enterprise remains solvent and that there are no obstacles to the core function of the business.
However, students with goals related to executive functioning and determining the nuts and bolts of making things work may benefit from such a role, as can a team of students who can evaluate the store’s status and decide together what needs to be done to ensure it continues to run smoothly.
This process may be a more complex one but also does not require a huge time commitment as it is mostly about ensuring the business has what it needs to continue to run as intended.
Depending on your product this role might emphasize creativity or focus on following procedures. It is a role that can supplement sales and depending on whether your business has a regular repeating schedule can also help with establishing routines.
This is a fantastic role for following procedures and establishing routines. Whether we are talking about a production space or a shop location, there likely needs to be a set of procedures for getting everything set up and cleaning everything up at the end to ensure that products and supplies are secured and that the environment remains clean and safe. This is the type of role where you as teacher could set procedures and ask students to work on keeping up with them or work together with students to determine what kind of routine the workspace will need to continue functioning as intended.
Slightly different from sales, this is a social role but also a role that requires managing transactions, keeping an eye on inventory, and possibly handling the routines of opening and closing the store space.This role could be the primary focus of a few students or rotated between students depending on when and where the store space operates.
What is the intended outcome of this project?
Finally, it is crucial to set some parameters around the function of the business, whether it will be a one time thing during the holidays, pop up for a month then go away as students move on to other things, try to meet a specific financial goal, or just operate as long as students find it interesting and fulfilling.
The most crucial part is to set some clearly measurable terms by which the project can be declared completed, but the things you choose to measure can be based on the goals you and your class have for the business.
We will operate our store every Wednesday for 3 months or until we raise enough money for a class trip to the zoo ($1,000).
We will create ornaments for two different holiday seasons (Halloween and Valentines Day), each with a 1 week ordering period, a 1 week production period, and a delivery day.
We will run our popcorn stand every Friday for the remainder of the school year. However, each month we will also poll the class to ensure that the majority of students wish to continue running the business, and will cease operations if a majority of the students decide they do not want to anymore.
Establishing all the fine details of a business, even a simplified one, can be a bit of a pain and really test your assumptions about how you expected things to work when you started out. But it is also an incredibly valuable tool for helping navigate the challenges and unforeseen circumstances a business can bring.
More importantly for classroom businesses, it will help you establish a strong working knowledge of your product that will be invaluable when seeking out approval from decision-makers in your school or district to finally get started.
In part 5 of this series, we will talk about how getting school approval and the ways that your established business plan can help you with getting buy-in. Until next time if you have an experience with a classroom business that you’d like to share drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be back next week with part 5!