4 Excellent Business Plan Software Packages to Help Grow your Startup

We previously discussed why you should write a business plan for your startup. It helps you organize your thoughts, turn them into a professional document with which you can communicate with potential employees, partners and investors, then keep your business on track as it evolves and grows.

These days, creating a simple business plan is fairly easy, with the wide availability of free templates on the web. But it can quickly get complicated as you delve into the details, and that’s where business plan software comes in. It can get you started in the right direction by answering such frequently asked questions as: What is an executive summary? What goes into a marketing plan? How should I best present my financial forecasts?

When you’re ready to take the next step with your business plan, here are four excellent software packages to consider.

LivePlan

Palo Alto has a long history of making business plan software (I’ve used them myself for nearly two decades), and LivePlan is the most commonly used software available. Its step-by-step process includes fill-in-the-blank planning, real-life examples and tutorials to produce a detailed business plan in no time. It can even gather your financials and sync with QuickBooks Online (an option I’m still learning about). There is no free version, but you can pay monthly until you have generated the reports you need, and you can request a refund if not satisfied.

Enloop

Enloop is a solid product that will automatically generate text, financial forecasts and reports once you enter your basic business information. It displays a real-time score that goes up as your plan improves, and compares your forecasts and financial ratios with peers in your industry, so you get quantitative feedback on how you are progressing. The free option doesn’t include all of these bells and whistles, but does provide a basic plan. Like LivePlan, you can pay on a monthly basis and cancel anytime.

StratPad

StratPad is a cloud-based product that provides basic plan-building services and integration with QuickBooks Online. For startups and students, they offer a free product; otherwise, a monthly fee provides access to both StratPad Cloud and StratPad Connect, a community of like-minded professionals, coaches and mentors. It also connects you directly to banks and other lending institutions to help you get any funding you may need. As with the others, you can cancel anytime and get a refund if not satisfied.

BusinessPlanTemplate.com

This site a template library, rather than software, but it offers hundreds of templates for specific types of businesses. For entrepreneurs on a tight budget, it’s a good starting point to generate a free plan for any category of company. As you embark on writing your business plan, try one or more of these options and see which one best matches your process and personality. I know I always see things more clearly after going through this endeavor, and I bet you will, too. Let us know how it’s going for you by reaching out to our startup community, where you’ll connect with fellow entrepreneurs. Join us!

5 Steps to Take when Vetting a Business Idea

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Good ideas are a dime a dozen; it’s good execution that counts.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you have a brilliant, once-in-a-lifetime idea if you’re unable to execute it successfully.

While that may be true, it is certainly easier to build your business on a good idea than a bad one. You have only a limited amount of time, money, and sanity, so don’t waste any of those valuable resources by not doing your homework. Instead, vet your idea’s potential by taking these five steps.

•     Write a business plan. There are many resources and templates available to help you begin writing your plan. We like liveplan.com, which is organized by sections such as opportunity, expectations, financials, etc. Not only will it help you start getting your thoughts on paper, it will walk you through areas you may not have even thought of, eventually creating a professional document you can present to bankers and future investors.

•     Research your competition. As with your business plan, there are countless online resources to help you conduct deep competitor analysis and research. This is your opportunity to uncover issues now, before they cost you money later. Another resource is to find a mentor familiar with the industry and its players, and who is willing to provide knowledgeable feedback about your idea.

•     Establish a waiting period. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re thinking of ideas all the time. Rather than pursue all of them, slow down and take the time to think. Sleep on it, giving your subconscious time to consider the pros and cons of the idea before making a final decision.

•     Learn your customer. Steve Jobs once said, “[Get] so close [to your customers] that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” The market for your idea might not even exist yet. Is that because your idea is a “hero” or because it is a “zero”? And is your potential customer base even one you will like and want to do business with? Figure that out before committing to pouring every last resource into those customers.

•     Write down what success looks like. Aside from financial achievement, how will you gauge success? Define it in terms of your customer: e.g., “I will help 1,000 people start their own businesses.” You can’t go wrong if your customer is the focus of your mission and vision from day one.

Starting a business is hard enough, so selecting the right idea at the beginning is key. Pivoting in a different direction later could put you back practically to square one, so take the time now to formally define your idea, share it with experienced, potential shareholders if you can, and determine whether or not to invest the money and time needed to make it work. And of course, if you need assistance with any of these steps, get in touch with us. We are here to help.

3 Reasons Your Startup Needs a Business Plan

As an entrepreneur, perhaps you’ve always been a “seat-of-the-pants” type of person. Your instinctive nature has allowed you to take risks that have paid off in the past.

However, that spontaneity will take you only so far. To build your company for the long term, you’ll need to formalize your strategy by way of a business plan.

I know what you’re thinking: why should I write a business plan now, when what I’ve been doing has worked so far? Before answering that question, let’s go over the elements of a good business plan.

  • Executive Summary – overview of the business plan, including mission statement
  • Business Description – description of the business, including a problem you are solving with your product or service, and your competitive advantages
  • Market Analysis – analysis of the industry outlook, target market and competitor landscape
  • Organization Management – how you will structure your operations and staffing
  • Sales Strategies – how you will market and sell your product or service
  • Funding Requirements – how much funding you will need for both the short- and long-term
  • Financial Projections – including all current financial statements and forecasts for the next five years

Now, putting together your business plan definitely is a lot of work. But it’s worth it, for these reasons:

1. Organizes your thoughts.

Sitting down to write your business plan forces you to assess your business idea at both a high level and a detailed view. This is also the time to conduct a deep analysis of the market and of your competitors. By solidifying this information and putting it down on paper, you’ll hone your “elevator pitch” and impress others during impromptu conversations.

2. Communicates your thoughts to stakeholders.

A well-written business plan organizes and presents ideas and projections that are difficult to communicate off-the-cuff. Anyone considering partnering with you or investing in your startup will require a business plan, and will appreciate your focus and clear vision. You can even use elements of your plan to educate potential employees and external partners about the company and their possible role in it.

3. Maintains the identity of your business.

A business plan is a “living” document. As your business evolves and grows, you should update your plan to help you navigate that growth and ensure you’re continuing on the right track. This process will help you maintain a focused and structured view of the future both for yourself, and for your interactions with others.

So while writing a business plan is time-consuming, it’s time well-spent in order to organize your thoughts, communicate with others and keep you on track. You can also stay on track by joining our startup community and connecting with other entrepreneurs. Join us!