Build upon the rock

31 October 2014

Your recent column on preparing a community audit when thinking about developing a church (24 October) did not go quite as far as we wanted. We are thinking of developing a community/local business in our church. What kind of community audit should we prepare?

I ASSUME that you are thinking of a business that would be self-sufficient and contribute a rental sum to the church for its use of the premises. So here are a few principles to consider.

First, prepare a report that is nearer market research than a community audit (although there are some likenesses). Consider your community, and, specifically, how much people in the area would make use of your product.

For instance, ask people (and record the answers) how often they would expect to make a purchase in your café; if they bought bread there; how often; and how much. You would need to have a wide spectrum of answers (not just your congregation) so that you can make realistic estimates of the level of daily, weekly, and annual sales. Would these people come regularly to your shop or café to find those products and services?

Research the prices at which you might sell your goods and services, and use your researched sales numbers to calculate the business's turnover.

Research the costs of running your business, taking advice from other people running the same kind of enterprise in your area. Include not just the direct costs of ingredients, but all rent and overheads. Then consider how many staff you would need, and what they would cost. A number of community businesses have a mixture of volunteers and professionals - very few survive on volunteers alone.

You will quickly see whether the numbers work. Will there be enough turnover from your neighbourhood - using your specific responses from neighbours, not a "finger in the wind" - to set up and establish your business? The optimistic members of your church may be convinced that this is a bright idea, and that that is all that is needed. But, unless you have a great deal of money available to cover both development costs and running costs, without realistic and robust market-research you will be unlikely to get grants, or even a bank loan to start up your business.

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If your community business includes elements that are a service to people in the area rather than part of the profit making, assess the realism with professionals already working in this field. For example, if you intend to put heritage or community activities on the agenda of your business - school visits, for example, or employing people with special needs - your professional staff will have to have a say in how many visits they can sustain, and at what times, and how many unskilled volunteers they can train or manage.

Each of the Lottery boards - Arts, Heritage, Big, and Sports - have extensive guidelines that may help you to develop the marketing report, as this is fundamental to what you hope to achieve. It will be a big piece of work, but it fits in well with the parable about building on rock, not sand.

Issues and questions to maggie-durran@virginmedia.com

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