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Blair Franklin

So you've jumped on the escape room bandwagon. You're ready to lock yourself in and throw away the key (so to speak). You love the concept, and want to pursue it as a business opportunity. You’re not alone! 

In fact, from the outset of 2010, the number of permanent escape rooms sites worldwide has gone from zero to 2,670, according to the Escape Room Directory. And the successful operations do quite well—one particular room in Dallas generates monthly revenues of $70,000 (although any experienced escape room operator will tell you, success only comes with a truckload of hard work, long hours, and growing pains). 

For some people, the thought of doing a lot of research and writing a 15+-page document causes horrifying flashbacks of being in school, so this is a good test of your resolve...remember that this is a critical step, and you have to complete it before you can do anything else.
— Heist Escape Party

Originally modeled after the puzzle rooms in role playing video games, this entertainment phenomenon will continue to face new challenges as the industry grows—regulations, for example, and increased competition from big-budget franchises and virtual escape rooms (the new kids on the block). One thing is clear, though: Live-scenario games are a hot trend, and skyrocketing in popularity. From corporate teams, to bachelor/bachelorette parties, to family reunions, to casual group date nights, the audience is broad, and the demand is promising. 

But first things first: If you're really serious about doing it right, putting together a detailed business plan is utterly necessary. Even with plenty of startup capital, this exercise goes far beyond having documentation to show potential investors. A great business plan allows you to visualize how your business will operate before it goes live; aligns partners on objectives; fills in gaps you may have otherwise missed; raises critical questions; and much more. Not sure where to start? Here are a few options to help get you started:

1. Purchase Templates Specifically Created for Escape Rooms

Black Box offers a business plan template specifically for escape rooms

Black Box offers a business plan template specifically for escape rooms

The resources here aren’t particularly bountiful, given the relative infancy of the industry, but pre-made, for-sale templates do exist. Black Box Business Plans provides tailored business plans for a couple dozen models, including escape rooms. They also offer optional add-on features such as Excel SureCash if you need help calculating finances, or a pitch deck and helpful guidelines for raising capital if you plan on working with investors. Alternatively, for one lump sum, business management and consulting firm E.C. & Associates provides a comprehensive escape room business plan package "written at a doctoral level and investor-ready."

2. Take Advantage of Free Tools and Templates

The U.S. Small Business Administration provides a free template tool for drafting a business plan. 

The U.S. Small Business Administration provides a free template tool for drafting a business plan. 

If you feel as though you can work with something less tailored to escape rooms, there's a number of generalized templates and tools on the Internet (the time consuming part is choosing which one to use). SCORE is a nonprofit “dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow, and achieve their goals through education and mentorship,” and they offer a comprehensive generic template. Getting in touch with them will connect you with professionals who are eager to help you plan your business. The U.S. Small Business Administration also provides a helpful free template tool.

3. Work With a Consultant or Professional Business Plan Writing Service

Platforms like Thumbtack and Upwork help connect you with contractors and freelancers who specialize in the service you're looking for, such as business plan writing and consulting.  

Platforms like Thumbtack and Upwork help connect you with contractors and freelancers who specialize in the service you're looking for, such as business plan writing and consulting.  

Don't hedge your bets if you plan on working with a consultant. As venture coach Stever Robbins advises, “If you really want to hire a consultant, keep in mind that it often pays to spend extra to get the very best. When you're paying for someone's knowledge, you want assurance that what the person has to offer is high-quality.” If you’re looking for independent contractors, websites such as UpWork and Thumbtack make it easy to peruse the freelance marketplace, with ratings and user reviews to help you make your choice. When working with freelancers, make sure to ink a written agreement detailing the deliverables, timetable and payment schedule.

Professional business plan writing services give you a polished and investor-ready product in a shorter amount of time. Consider comparing quotes from platforms like MasterPlans vs. Thumbtack and Upwork. 

Professional business plan writing services give you a polished and investor-ready product in a shorter amount of time. Consider comparing quotes from platforms like MasterPlans vs. Thumbtack and Upwork. 

You can also seek out a professional business plan writing service. Companies like MasterPlans, AcePlans or LivePlan match you with a hand-picked team or individual to bring your business plan to fruition. Think of it as hiring a consultant—without having to go through the vetting process yourself. LivePlan and AcePlans also promise added incentives such as graphic design work and a money-back guarantee. While it will probably cost more out of pocket, outsourcing the assembly of your escape room business plan will produce a highly polished product in a relatively short period of time—something to consider if you plan on pitching to investors. 

4. Or...Dig in and DIY! 

Putting together your own escape room business plan from scratch isn't as overwhelming as it sounds. In fact, taking the DIY route (and doing it right) will give you an intrinsic handle on your own roadmap. You'll know the game plan like the back of your hand—and, as a result—might get more out of it. 

While there's no single correct way to write a business plan, there is universal consensus on the importance the following items, according to Entrepreneur:

  • Have several versions of your business plan, each tailored for specific audiences, depending on who is going to be using it and looking at it.

  • Your plan is a living document: Review it frequently, and compare it against what actually happened. Revise accordingly. 

  • Be realistic about financial estimates and projections

  • Cite your sources. Business plans include market research and projections. Be sure to attribute the source of your information so as to maintain the credibility of your plan. 

  • Think about presentation: If you don't like looking at it, chances are you're not going to actually use it, and investors aren't going to be impressed either. Remember to take formatting into consideration. Make your business plan nice to look at, easy to digest and read

Ready to take a stab at putting together your own escape room business plan? Here are six core components to include:

  • Executive Summary: This is a brief, overarching synopsis of your business plan. While it will be the first thing to follow your title page, you may want to save writing your summary for last, when every detail about your escape room is still swirling in your head. This is your first impression, so make it count.

  • Business Description: Here you’ll include a short description of your industry as a whole, including new developments and outlook. As escape rooms are relatively new as a business model, you will be talking about recent and instantaneous growth in popularity.

  • Market Strategies: Here’s where a trip to MarketWatch and some light statistical analysis comes in handy. This is where you define your target market and detail how you plan on finding growth within your designated market.

  • Competitive Analysis: This is the space where you analyze your business competition. This can mean other escape room businesses or other activity operations in your area.

  • Operations and Management Plan: This section will cover the day-to-day aspects of your escape plan business, where it’s located, and the people and equipment you’ll need to run it, and everything nitty gritty. 

  • Financial Factors: Normally tucked in the back of a business plan, this section is paramount when showing your business plan to investors. Here you’ll include your personal finances, project expenses, and anticipated cash flow.

TIP: When working on the operations and management component of your plan, don't forget that choosing the right online booking solution is critical so the success of your escape room. An online booking system like ZOZI Advance lets you view upcoming reservations, run revenue reports, manage automated email communications with your customers and room masters, accept bookings 24/7, and a whole lot more. 

See how Bayou Escape Rooms is thriving on efficiency and automation with the help of ZOZI Advance: