When starting your own business, you must consider a variety of factors, including legal structure, financing, marketing, resource needs and product lines. Keeping everything in your head – or on the back of a napkin – risks confusion and loss of focus. Business plan software, such as Business Plan Pro and Business PlanMaker, helps you organize goals and plans for your startup.
Business plans not only help you prepare for startup; they also help your company stay on track through first months and years. Most experts recommend updating your business plan on a regular basis, especially if you use it to entice investors or partners. Software can assist you in creating and maintaining a variety of plans, from general business plans to marketing plans. You can find more information on these products as part of our business plan articles.
DIY Business Plans: What to Look For
Business plan software includes options such simple fill-in-the-blank templates or legal programs that help you navigate incorporation and contract development. Selecting the right plan lets you create a business plan most likely to help you succeed.
Templates & Sample Documents
One of the most important aspects of software for business planning is the inclusion of sample documents and templates. Sample documents provide you with an idea of correct business plan formats, so you know what type of information to gather before getting started. Templates provide the bones of a document, allowing you to enter information without typing the entire plan from start to finish.
Support of Multiple Plan Types
Some software is designed for a specific industry or business; others provide information and templates for creating general plans that work in a variety of arenas. The most robust programs let you select from common industries and may even include options for start-up, investor or marketing business plans. When opening a niche business, such as a coffee shop, look for software that meets industry needs. Otherwise, select general or all-inclusive products.
DIY business plan products are generally designed to be user-friendly and walk you through the business planning process, but you may run into technical issues as you download, install or use the program. Free tech support options help ensure you get optimal benefits from your purchase. Look for products that come with at least two tech support options, including email, forums, telephone or online chat support.
As with any software, you'll need to ensure the business planning product you purchase will work on your computer. Take a few minutes to compare the software requirements, such as memory and operating system, with your computer. If you plan to use the product to co-create a plan with another person or team, you may need to purchase multiple licenses or opt for a cloud-based version with multiple logins.
Business planning tools let you start organized and in control. Using the right tools throughout your company's early years can help you stay in control for increased chances of success.
Knowledgeable guidance is always helpful when you're starting your own business, and software that walks you through the planning process is one way to receive such guidance. Business Plan Pro from Palo Alto Software is a DIY business plan tool that includes hundreds of templates and samples, so you can compare your progress with professional plans and documents.
Business Plan Pro has been in the DIY business planning market since 1991 and boasts clients such as AT&T and The Walt Disney Company, which makes it a possible choice for both small business start-ups and established corporations looking for business planning assistance. The software includes more than 2,000 sample documents, including 500 complete business plans that you can edit for your own use or use for inspiration. While so many templates could be overwhelming, Business Plan Pro provides a browser that lets you filter plans by business category or keywords.
One of the fears many small business owners have when writing a business plan is messing up the accounting or math—you certainly don't want to be presenting a document to potential investors and have someone point out a math error. Business Plan Pro helps you get around that problem by handing calculations in the software. While you do have to take care to enter your numbers correctly, some basic validations and table wizards help you enter accurate information. The program then uses your data to forecast growth and financial health over time, something investors like to see in any business pitch.
Business plan format is important, but so is a professional presentation. Business Plan Pro lets you export information to preformatted Word, Excel, PowerPoint or PDF files; print booklets or use projectors to share your data with investors. If you want something less generic than the preformatted document, you can use Business Plan Pro for limited customization on each page of your document before exporting.
One ongoing benefit of Business Plan Pro is that the business plan software is set up for more than just seeking investors. The tool also offers cash flow tools, follow-up plans and a management dashboard, but you'll have to purchase the Premier edition to take advantage of these options. Business Plan Pro does recommend the Premier edition for entrepreneurs who plan on seeking multiple outside funding sources.
As a business planning tool, Business Plan Pro is comprehensive and easy to use. While new entrepreneurs can use wizards and help functions to create professional business plans, this software is geared slightly to individuals with some level of business experience.
Writing a business plan from scratch is hard work and increases the risks of mistakes; Business PlanMaker from Individual Software lets you leverage 1,000 sample plans and an interview wizard to reduce the hassle of creating your plan. The software includes financial forecasting and a basic error check to ensure your plan is ready for investor eyes.
When starting your own business, you may wonder what to include in pitches to increase the chance investors will fund your endeavor. One component of Business PlanMaker that is helpful for entrepreneurs seeking funding is the error review at the end of the document-creation process. The software runs a basic check to ensure no essential sections are missing and notifies you of possible errors in the plan.
Once your plan is complete, Business PlanMaker prompts you to publish in a variety of formats so you can meet the preferences of different types of investors. The business plan software lets you print or email the document, or you can export pieces to Word or Excel for further customization. Sharing through email or the web via a Word document can get dicey if investors don't have a compatible version, so you can also export your entire presentation as a PDF.
Making your DIY business plan ready for publication through Business PlanMaker involves working through an interview-style process during which the software instructs you on what data is needed for each component of the plan. While individuals familiar with business planning may find the process cumbersome, the wizard does make it easier for new business owners to create an accurate document. The interview wizard also offers advice and tips helpful for new or intermediate business plan writers.
Instead of providing a business plan format where you fill in the blanks, Business PlanMaker converts your answers into a complete document. While this might lead to limitations, the fact that you can export the document to Word for customization mitigates any worry about being tied to specific wording.
Along with the software, you get access to a library for entrepreneurs that offers advice regarding business structures, industry trends and additional resources for launching a start-up. Business PlanMaker is a good option for anyone who hasn't ever written a business plan. Even knowledgeable business owners may find some value here if they don't care about the wizard-style programming.
Business Suite Review
Business Suite from Simple Planning offers five project and business planning tools at a single price. If you're starting your own business, the tools let you organize thoughts around estimated profits or budgets and get yourself on track with a calendar tool. The real value in Simple Planning's download package is for individuals who already own or manage a small to midsize business though.
The first tool in this business plan software package is an interactive profit and loss planner that takes the place of more complicated accounting software for small business owners. The tool is spreadsheet oriented with monthly, quarterly and annual views. You can toggle between several charts and graphs for a visual look at your financials, and there's no requirement for external software or exporting.
The DIY business plan tool also features a net worth summary and budget planner with similar functionality. Spreadsheets are coupled with click-and-point interfaces for quick navigation, and a large selection of charts and graphs turn data into easy-to-understand images. While Business Suite doesn't provide templates for business plan formats, small business owners familiar with writing a business plan can use the charts created by the three financial tools to populate plans and presentations. If you know how to write a basic business plan, then the colorful graphs enhance your data and capture the interest of investors.
Business Suite offers two other planning tools: a calendar and invoice template. The invoice template lets you generate Excel invoices from information you previously entered. Convert the invoices to PDF or other documents for emailing, or print and send batch invoices easily. Use the calendar tool to schedule invoicing as well as other events. When launching a new business, your schedule can become dense with meetings and new company needs, so any organization assistance can be helpful. You can use the calendar to manage yearly, monthly, weekly or daily views. A single click lets you see what's on tap for the day, and you can back out to see major milestone plans for your business throughout the year.
Business Suite provides planning tools for business owners, some of which may be helpful in writing your business, marketing or investing plans. It is not, however, a comprehensive business plan document tool. If you're looking for something that will walk you through writing a new business plan, another software option is probably a better choice.
When starting your own business or developing new projects for a current endeavor, you can find a collection of helpful tools at iPlanner.net. The service includes free templates and limited guides, but the meat of iPlanner's offerings comes in a low-cost cloud-based business plan software. You can purchase the professional version to run a single project or opt for a corporate version to manage 12 or more projects at a time, which is handy for entrepreneurs seeking to launch multiple start-ups.
The iPlanner DIY business plan tool provides examples and templates you can customize for pitching to investors or writing management business plans to keep your efforts focused. Once you create a document you're satisfied with, you can use iPlanner.net's secure network to assign a unique address to your plan, which lets you share the plan globally with anyone you choose. Secure online sharing not only lets you take advantage of investor networks across the world, but also reduces printing costs for start-up pitches.
In addition to a proper business plan format, iPlanner helps you with financial planning by providing scenario analysis, stress tests and business valuation tools. The tools may be a bit advanced for someone without any experience in business financials, as you have to gather and generate your own data to feed the tools. The conclusions arrived at through the tools are only as good as the information you provide.
A big benefit of iPlanner is that it lets you begin writing a business plan with flexible planning options. You can convert between months, quarters or years to see how different plans play out over time, and you can use charts and graphs related to various periods to present investors with a comprehensive look at your plan. Another strength of iPlanner is an action planning tool that takes components of your business plan and develops short-term milestones and goals that are easier and less overwhelming to approach. The software lets you track progress toward the goals and update financial targets accordingly.
When combined with iPlanner's free guides and templates, the paid software is a robust tool that covers planning needs for businesses of all sizes. Those who are interested in the product but aren't ready to commit to a purchase price can take a tour of the software and see how it is used to build a complete business plan.
Live Plan Review
LivePlan from Palo Alto Software provides a step-by-step walkthrough that assists entrepreneurs in crafting a complete business plan. An expert wizard explains each step, but if you have more experience, you can skip through some stages when writing a business plan.
Starting your own business can be stressful, which is why LivePlan is designed to remove the guesswork and tedium from the planning process. Several modules walk you through entering data. LivePlan's Easy Financials module includes built-in formulas and chart designs that convert your raw data into presentation components, making it more likely your business plan can double as a tool to draw investors.
LivePlan offers one of the essential components of DIY business plan tools: sample plans. The software lets you browse more than 500 professional plans from a variety of industries, providing ideas for how to structure your own plan and advice about what other individuals are including in their plan. LivePlan doesn't provide a basic template editor, which would let you enter data to fill in the blanks on an existing plan. However, the software's advanced document functions make up for the lack of a template.
When starting a small business, you'll need to perfect a variety of pitches. From the 30-second elevator pitch to a 30-minute pitch to potential partners or investors, LivePlan's pitch-building tool helps you drill down to the essential information about your new company. The program then lets you convert that data into a single page for pitching via presentation, mail, email or web.
LivePlan also offers a "what if" tool. This insights feature can help you better predict how possible changes to your business – increasing your pricing or taking out a loan – position your business best for the future. Multiple metrics are also available for the Benchmarks feature in this program, such as monthly revenue or profit per employee, to name just a few.
One major benefit of LivePlan for those working in a team environment is that the business plan software is cloud-based for anywhere access and sharing. It's also compatible with both PC and Mac. You can opt to pay for a monthly subscription, but an annual subscription saves you about 40 percent. In keeping with its user-friendly message, LivePlan can be set up in a few minutes, and the company offers a 60-day money-back guarantee. Product support is available from Palo Alto via telephone or live chat on the LivePlan website.
Overall, LivePlan is a robust business planning tool that works for almost any entrepreneur. You won't find industry-specific tools, but if you know your own industry well, you can take optimal advantage of LivePlan's friendly interface and dashboard reporting.
Nolo Quicken Review
Available as a download or a CD for use on Windows machines, Quicken's Legal Business Pro offers DIY business plan functionality specific to structuring your business, seeking financing or hiring employees or contractors. More than 100 templates and digital access to six best-selling books lets you create documents and take advantage of expert guidance when starting your own business.
A unique component of Legal Business Pro's business plan software is the integration of searchable copies of books such as "Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business," "How to Write a Business Plan" and "The Essential Guide to Federal Employment Laws." When coupled with the forms, worksheets and contract templates in the software, the information in the included books instructs you on proper business plan format and provides tips for forecasting financial data, setting up billing and collections processes and seeking funding for your new endeavor.
When it comes to writing a business plan, Legal Business Pro is not a fill-in-the-blank template software, and it doesn't break everything down into bite-sized chunks for novices. Instead, it delivers a comprehensive set of business management resources that can also be used to create investor pitches. In addition to pitching your business idea, Legal Business Pro provides documents necessary for incorporating, creating a partnership or offering stock options. The software includes a variety of employment contracts, letting you deal with traditional employees or independent contractors, and it features a robust selection of tax and real estate forms.
While the program doesn't operate in wizard format, it does include how-to checklists for complex tasks, so intermediate users should be able to complete documents without leaving out essential data. A unique benefit of Legal Business Pro is the ability to manage business assets and write-offs to a limited degree, though the program is unlikely to fully replace accounting software or service needs for most organizations.
The program is not compatible with Mac operating systems, but it does include free legal downloads for a limited time. An outside spreadsheet program and Adobe reader may be required to view or access some functionality.
While Legal Business Pro is not a simple program for writing business plans, it does include all the components necessary for putting together a plan to show investors. It also features an expansive selection of documents and templates that might come in handy throughout the life of your organization.
Available in four cloud-based software options, PlanMagic Business offers templates and analytical tools necessary for writing a business plan. Templates that work in Word, Excel and PowerPoint make it easy to share business plan documents and presentations, letting you go from writing the document to investor pitches quickly.
Not compatible with Mac operating systems, PlanMagic Business requires Windows Vista, 7 or 8. Minimum requirements for using this DIY business plan also include MS Office 2002 or higher, as most templates are presented in a Microsoft Office environment.
Begin with a business plan format in Word that matches your industry or business. You get a product and service templates, as well as an industry-specific template for niches such as apartment rental, day care, cleaning service, photo studio or nonprofit. You only get to opt for one of the extra templates, making PlanMagic Business a good choice when starting your own business in a single industry but a limited option for entrepreneurs launching multiple business ideas.
Each of the templates includes an automated table of contents and sections for the executive summary, development, marketing, historic analysis, organizational structure, operations, risk management, financial plan and appendices. Organized in Word, the templates prompt you to complete subsections below each section for a comprehensive document. Financials are obtained through PlanMagic Business's Excel downloads, which feature a smart-entry system and validation points to reduce data errors. The business plan software lets you develop financial forecasts in monthly and quarterly reports for three years and annual reports for up to five years, letting you provide investors with a detailed view of your goals. The Excel downloads include more than 40 graphs and charts for presentation purposes.
Once the initial document is complete, PlanMagic Business provides tools for converting data into investor-centric presentations. Whether you're pitching a bank, a corporate investor or an angel investor, you can customize your approach with PowerPoint templates. One benefit of PlanMagic Business's reliance on the Microsoft suite is that you don't have to redo work: Once information is compiled in the planning software, it converts easily to usable documentation in the other programs. Those who don't care for or have Microsoft Office, however, will find PlanMagic Business of little use.
The basic software package, which can be purchased as a monthly or perpetual license, provides complete functionality, but you can also opt to purchase an advanced package, marketing package or additional templates. Overall, the software is robust for start-up and investor-seeking purposes as long as you combine it with the Microsoft products.
PlanWrite for Business from Business Resource Software uses software wizards, instructions and professional examples to walk you through writing a business plan. Starting your own business without a written plan can lead to confusion and poor decisions, but many new business owners avoid planning because the format seems daunting – DIY business plan software such as PlanWrite lets you create a plan quickly and easily.
PlanWrite includes a library of sample business plans, letting you view proper business plan formats via documents that pertain to a variety of industries. After drawing some inspiration from existing plans, you can take advantage of wizards that walk you through entering data to customize a business plan template. One benefit of PlanWrite is that it offers multiple formats and guides you to select a document that is most preferred by the type of investor you are attempting to woo.
PlanWrite includes some more advanced modules for individuals who want business plan software that goes beyond the initial pitch to investors. You can generate automated financial statements for inclusion in your plans, or integrate PlanWrite with QuickBooks Pro to manage financial plans on an ongoing basis. Dynamic chart options let you convert financial data into 3-dimensional representations, which both provide investors with a quick look into your plans and help you keep track of performance on a daily or weekly basis without delving constantly into raw data.
PlanWrite offers some additional support to ensure your final presentation is as professional as possible. The business version includes an automated completeness analysis that lets you know if important information is missing, and the tool conducts a final grammar and spell check of your document. Remember not to rely 100 percent on automated spell check tools as they aren't infallible – always proofread your document before putting it in front of investors.
You can supplement PlanWrite with other business planning tools, including product, pricing and marketing strategy systems, though you'll pay an additional fee for the downloads. One thing you won't pay for is unlimited telephone support to the Business Resource Software staff, which is a nice assurance if you're new to business planning tools and worried about navigating the software.
As a software for writing business plans, PlanWrite is comprehensive and appears user-friendly. With professional-level financial tools and integration options, the software may be more suited to intermediate planners rather than beginning entrepreneurs.
While writing a business plan requires using a basic template for most industries, QuickPlan Restaurant from FoodSoftware lets you create a DIY business plan specific to the food industry. Reasons to create a restaurant plan include a desire to start your own dining establishment, seek funding for a planned or existing restaurant or value your business prior to selling it.
QuickPlan Restaurant begins with a food-service based business plan format with blanks for your information. The plan is based on a 166-seat restaurant that offers full service, and you can tweak it for specialty eateries such as pizzerias, sandwich shops or coffee shops, making it a good choice for food-service entrepreneurs who want to leave their options open. If you're set on a specific type of eatery, however, the company also offers 13 specialty business plan software options.
One benefit of QuickPlan Restaurant is that it includes analysis data from the National Restaurant Association, making it easy to incorporate benchmark information into your plan. When starting your own business in the food-service industry, you'll need more than a plan though. The software also provides templates for bar, employee and operations manuals. Additional resources include FAQs, small business guidelines and links to helpful industry sites.
The business plan template itself includes basics such as a table of contents, executive summary, business description, marketing strategy and financial plan. Certain areas of the plan are written specifically for a restaurant environment, so they include points about regulation, food safety and permit requirements. Financials are broken into worst-case, realistic-case and best-case scenarios for easy comparison, and you can create up to five years of budgets, income statements, cash flow analysis and balance sheets.
All of QuickPlan Restaurant's functionality works with programs most business owners or entrepreneurs are likely familiar with, including Word and Excel. Templates and financials can be exported into word processing or spreadsheet files for customization and sharing, and charts and graphs can be copied into PowerPoint presentations to make pitches interactive and more professional.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to QuickPlan Restaurant is that you do need more than a basic knowledge of the industry to complete the plan. The software doesn't guide you through data entry in wizard format. Although the templates are comprehensive, you have to know what information to include at each point and have access to data, such as food and beverage costs. For someone with knowledge of the industry, however, the software saves many hours when creating a plan for use in seeking funding.