The difference between a feasibility study & a business plan

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? How much would the wood cost and how dependable is supply? Does the wood have a “best by” date? How long would it take to do the chucking? And what about woodchuck retention, it is a tough market out there.

If there are wood chucking businesses (and we do have a client that clears and hauls felled trees and wood debris), they might want to consider a feasibility study and business plan before diving into an expansion or other major project. Feasibility studies and business plans are commonly needed (or required) for analysis and decision purposes such as the launch of a new business line, product or service line expansions, geographic expansion, or attracting capital. Likewise, target readers range from boards of directors for project approval purposes, management for internal planning, lenders or potential investors, grant or other assistance programs, and a number of others. 

But what are the differences between a feasibility study and a business plan, and how do the two relate? A business feasibility study is a detailed analysis of the viability of an idea or concept for a business venture. Once feasibility has been determined, a business plan documents the operational and financial objectives of the venture and the detailed plans to achieve them. In short, a business feasibility study can be looked at as “Can we?” while the business plan is “How to.” 

It is common for the “can we?” and “how to” assessments of a project to be combined into one document, but many key aspects of feasibility should be determined before diving too deep into the “how to” of a venture.

Some years ago we did a feasibility study for a large California dairy operation seeking to grow returns by introducing value-added products rather than strictly selling bulk fluid milk. The idea? Homogenize and pasteurize their own milk (some in flavors), put it in glass bottles, and deliver it to people’s doorsteps. 

After I got over my shock, we set about exploring key aspects of feasibility: Is there demand for it, and at what price points? What would it take for the company to successfully make and bottle the products? How would it be marketed? Can bottles be returned and sanitized sufficiently for safe re-use?

As you might imagine, there was not much industry data to lean on; Nielsen and IRI have no market data for home delivered milk, there are no trade associations for the home milk delivery business, and not a lot of equipment and bottle suppliers focus on that niche of the otherwise huge dairy industry.

It was a challenge. We designed a market survey and partnered with the marketing program of a local community college to take consumer surveys at farmers’ markets and other events to determine potential market interest and price points. We contacted some of the few similar operations we could find in the United States. We looked into the availability of bottles approved for both milk and multiple re-use. 

Ultimately, we found the project feasible, and with this assurance developed a business plan to lay out the “how to-s.” In the years since, the company has been a great success with stunning growth.

Tempting as it may be to dive straight into the “how to,” unless you have other supportable reasons to believe a project is feasible from such key aspects as demand, production, distribution, marketing, capital, and a thorough risk assessment, it is best to spend some time determining “Can we?”

I tell our business feasibility study clients that one result they should be prepared for is “not feasible.” It happens, but it’s still a lot less trouble and risky than jumping in without due diligence. Morrison has conducted feasibility studies and business plans for nearly 20 years for a wide variety of needs and intended readers. We’re always happy to bounce around ideas and help explore what might – or might not – work for a business’s needs.

About the Author

Brent Morrison is the Founding Principal at Morrison. To get in touch with Brent, please find contact information for Morrison here.


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