Writing a Roadmap to a Better Business

No business plans to fail, but lots of businesses fail to plan. You can avoid taking that road to nowhere by using Palo Alto Software‘s Business Plan Pro 2007 Edition. This comprehensive program provides all of the tools and resources that you need to build a formal business plan.

Business Plan Pro (BPP) is a long-time and dominant player in its niche market. While last year’s version included welcome new features, the new 2007 edition falls a bit short on the evolutionary scale. In theory, anyone with last year’s version has already created a business plan and little motivation to buy a newly minted copy. However, consultants who use Business Plan Pro to counsel their clients who may be inclined to upgrade.

New and Improved
Palo Alto Software says that version 2007 is the most complete Business Plan Pro ever. While this may be true, the new additions and improvements are strictly incremental — there are no new must-have features.

A redesigned home page offers stronger organization and faster access to resources. It’s an improvement, but there were no discernible problems with last year’s home page. Palo Alto Software also adjusted the menus, updated the toolbar, and it offers a useful new option to maximize desktop space while working.

Business Plan Pro 2007 screen shot
The redesigned home page offers faster access to resources and better organization
(Click for larger image)

A new business glossary provides definitions of business terms in a single click. This addition can be helpful to novices. You can also change the colors in all your charts in a single step. And behind the scenes, BPP was designed to be on the lookout for even more errors and problems than its predecessor.

Still Good Under the Hood
Despite a lack of impressive new features, BPP remains an excellent program for writing, formatting and presenting business plans.

. BPP’s EasyPlan Wizard asks a series of questions that include: the type of business you are creating, cash versus accrual accounting, start date and more, and it offers explanations at almost every step. The wizard does an excellent job of walking you through the process of writing a plan.

Once you’ve answered the questions, the wizard recommends a template for your plan. With this template as a start, you can easily delete or add topics as needed. A Plan Outline displays the basic parts of your plan in outline form so you can quickly add, delete, rename or locate topics you want.

The program comes with 500 sample plans that you can review and refer to, or use as the basis for your own plan. And you can search for sample plans using keywords. The program provides nearly 9,000 industry profiles so you can compare your business against others within your industry. There are also 1,200 profiles of venture capital firms, and BPP lets you search for firms based on funding type, company stage, location and more.

The Plan versus Actual financial tool lets you track your results and compare actual numbers against the projected figures in your plan. It’s a valuable tool that can help you contain expenses, cash flow and profits.

Business Plan Pro 2007 screen shot
The EasyPlan Wizard asks a series of key questions and offers explanations with each step.
(Click for larger image)

Publish the Plan
BPP publishes five document types: new product or service description, financial, loan document, marketing and “complete,” and the formats meet the requirements of the Small Business Association (SBA). It also outputs formats that are used by most banks, venture capitalists and angel investors.

To assist with the presentation, BPP can output data and plans as Acrobat PDF documents, and it can also export to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. While we like exporting to Excel to further analyze data, BPP’s own internal spreadsheets also lets you analyze data with conventional financial ratios, as well as evaluate cash flow and create charts and graphs. There are even wizards that create financial tables to analyze forecasts, statements and budgets.

Throughout, the program offers links to definitions and instructions, both internal and on the Web. There are also two helpful books: Hurdle-The Book on Business Planning, by Tim Berry, and The Art of the Start, by Guy Kawasaki, both of which offer lots of advice on planning a business.

The higher-priced Premier Edition adds break-even and what-if analysis to the mix and tracks fund allocations, evaluates payroll, performs additional forecasting and imports spreadsheet data from Excel. In addition, collaboration tools let you e-mail plans to other people who can review and edit them and provide input.

Bottom Line
While it’s not a significant leap over its predecessor, Business Plan Pro 2007 is still a powerful and thorough program for building a business plan. If you’re in the process of launching a business, Business Plan Pro is a definite asset that can help you prepare for those meetings with investors, bankers and the SBA.

Business Plan Pro sells for $99.95. Premier Edition costs $199.

Wayne Kawamoto has written over 800 articles, columns and reviews about computers, new technologies, the Internet and small businesses. Wayne has also published three books about upgrading PCs, building office networks and effectively using and troubleshooting notebook computers. You can contact him through his Web site at www.waynewrite.com.

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