Taking Stock of Your Business Plan

By Patricia Fusco | Posted November 26, 2003

As you gather around the table with a bounty of food, family, and friends this Thanksgiving, it's probably pretty easy for you to take stock of those things for which you are most thankful. It's not a bad idea to do the same with your small business. As the end of the year draws near, it's a good time to take stock of where your business is today in order to figure out where it's going tomorrow.

Currently, nearly one-third of the American population is thinking about opening a business. Of these people, only about four percent actually go into business for themselves. Few would be foolish enough to commit their time and money without a strong business plan in hand.

To succeed, small-business owners need a road map. It's one thing to want to own a business and be your own boss, but you also need to determine what the business is, how it operates, and your expectations in the short- and long-term. It requires a plan. The simple concept of a business plan is the keystone of any small business — and it's often the difference between success and failure.

There are plenty of tools on the Web to get you thinking about your small business, taking stock of where you've been and where you're going, or how to get started in the first place. We take stock of some of the business plan software available online, which could lead you on the path toward building your small business dream.

Bplans.com
Bplans.com contains one of the largest single collections of free sample business plans online. The site offers practical advice on business planning, interactive tools, and access to a panel of business experts.

Bplans.com is owned and operated by Palo Alto Software, the maker of Business Plan Pro software. Both the regular and premier editions of Business Plan Pro gently guide users through preparing a comprehensive business plan. The data is readily converted into specific formats that banks, lenders, venture capital firms and angel investors prefer.

Financial information can be imported from QuickBooks into either edition of Business Plan Pro. The premier edition also includes SBA loan applications and a venture capital database. These features are particularly handy if part of your business plan requires that you seek capital from a variety of funding resources.

Business Plan Pro lists for just under $100 and Business Plan Pro Premier costs $299. Additional business planning tools are also available from Palo Alto Software. These include Marketing Plan Pro, Web Strategy Pro and Advertising Plan Pro.

Business Resource Software
Business Resource Software (BRS) is another leading provider of marketing and business planning software. BRS products employ expert systems and artificial intelligence technology to create a "Knowledge Base of Business Experts." The software products are based on this knowledge-collective to provide an evaluation of business conditions, and offer advise about the specific condition of a small business.

BRS business planning software includes Plan Write and Plan Write Expert Edition. Both come with a library of sample business plans, a business plan wizard, and step-by-step instructions about preparing a business plan. The programs are capable of exporting data to Word and Excel documents, as well as PDFs and HTML code.

Plan Write is available for just under $120 and the Plan Write Expert Edition retails for a little less than $220.

PlanWare
Based in Dublin, Ireland, PlanWare provides a variety of software for writing a business plan, a marketing plan, or both. The PlanWare family of five software products includes Plan Write - Business Planner, a business plan writing-tool that incorporates outlines, text, charts, financials and other data into a business plan.

Plan Write - Expert Business Planner is similar to Business Planner, but includes an expert system to analyze the plan and provide guidance. Plan Write - Business Planner costs $130 and Plan Write - Expert Business Planner runs around $230.

The three other products in the PlanWare lineup are for marketing and project management. Plan Write - Marketing Planner costs about $130 and offers a way to generate a comprehensive marketing plan. Priced just under $230, Quick Insight - Business Idea Assessor digests pricing, distribution, and market placement details, analyzes the facts, and recommends areas for improvement. Business Insight - Business Strategy Evaluator is another "expert" system designed to help entrepreneurs develop both detailed business plans and marketing strategies. This level of keen business insight comes at a price; the software lists for just under $800.

OOYM ... AITM
Out of your mind ... And into the Marketplace is a 17-year-old small business publisher, business plan software developer, and consulting firm specializing in step-by-step "how-to" information for aspiring and current small business owners. The firm sells business-planning textbooks and software, provides workshops and seminars, and offers business-consulting services.

The 2003 edition of Automate Your Business Plan is available for Windows 98, 2000, ME and XP users. The book, Anatomy of a Business Plan is included with every software package. The book includes two complete real-world business plans. As a stand-alone product, Automate Your Business Plan software offers step-by-step instructions about creating a credible, customized business plan. The software is not a set of templates outlining someone else's business plan. It assumes users know little or nothing about writing a business plan, and walks them through the entire process.

Automate Your Business Plan is available for $80 on the download; $90 for the download plus eBook version of Anatomy of a Business Plan. A CD version of the software and print version of the book is available for $95. (Phone in your order and ask about our discount if you already own the book.) Business plan consulting services are available on an hourly basis. Most clients require between six to 10 hours of support; pricing varies.

PlanMagic
PlanMagic business software features a friendly interface to guide users through preparing business plans. Product line analysis, detailed marketing plans, sales and cash flow forecasts are built into the program. All financial data is compiled into a workbook, which offers automatic sequential calculations, automatic ratios, and a selection of automatic charting features that compliment the written business-planning program well.

Minimum requirements for using PlanMagic Business 6.0 consist of a PC operating on Windows 98, NT, ME, 2000 or XP, a Java enabled browser, Word and Excel. Downloading PlanMagic Business costs about $85; PlanMagic Business download plus CD-ROM runs just under $100. PlanMagic Business 6.0 is available in English, Spanish, Dutch, Italian and Russian; financials are available in dollars, euros, and pounds.

Another program available from the family of PlanMagic software is specifically designed for Web marketing. WebQuestPro is a Web marketing guide that provides tutelage on how to properly position a business Web site on the Internet. It includes budget plans, time-period analysis and financial projections, and is priced at $75. Additional non-Web marketing analysis tools and planning programs are also available from PlanMagic for about $100 each. All software titles include six months of free upgrades.

Parting Thoughts
The bottom line about owning a small-business: This is your livelihood — it's what is going to put food on your table. For many entrepreneurs, business ownership is a dream, a dream that thousands of Americans try to make into a reality each and every year. To take the step from dream to reality, your small business has to have an idea, a plan, and start-up capital.

Owning and operating a small business is all about risk — it could provide you with great financial returns and personal accolades, or inescapable financial ruin and heartache. The clearer and more thorough your business plan is, the better your chances are for success.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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