When John O'Hara sought a loan to expand his Los Angeles business, John O'Hara's Pool Service, he hired a consultant to write a business plan. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars, he could've written the plan himself with a simple computer program. Today's business plan software does everything but drop the results in the mailbox. It guides you through the planning process, organizes your data according to a standard model, formats the text and prints out a polished product.
This month, we look at two of the leading business plan programs.
Robert Schmidt is a computer and business writer in Culver City, California.
Jian Tools for Sales' BizPlan-Builder Interactive provides an interactive framework to guide you through writing a plan. When you begin a new project, BizPlan-Builder's Power Prompt interface asks you for such information as your name, address and previous experience. Expert tips advise you how to complete the prompts, and sample responses are a click away.
While you enter the details in the right-hand panel, a plan outline called Project Navigator appears in the left-hand panel. Click on any part of the plan, and its contents appear in the right-hand panel. You can expand a section to show its subsections or drag-and-drop it to a new location in the outline.
When you click on Financial Plan, you get a series of worksheets that allow you to specify your working capital and other financial considerations. Plug in your estimates, and the totals and percentages are calculated automatically.
When you're ready to print, the program's Automatic Project Assembly creates a cover page, a table of contents and numbered pages with financial tables and charts. You can customize the plan in built-in word processor and spreadsheet modules. An export option lets you edit your plan in applications such as Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel.
Business Plan Pro 2.0
When you create a new plan in Palo Alto Software's Business Plan Pro, a Plan Wizard asks you a series of basic questions, creates a file and activates the Task Wizard.
The Task Wizard offers a checklist of eight to 10 steps, depending on the kind of business you're planning. Each step has up to six associated tasks. For example, the Initial Assessment includes Objectives, Mission, Break-Even Analysis and Potential Customers.
Click on a task, and the program takes you to its input screen, which consists of two horizontal panes. In the top pane, you can toggle between instructions and an example. In the bottom pane, you enter your version of the text or numbers.
The controls on this screen give you plenty of flexibility. You can pop into a word processor to edit your text more fully or format it for readability. You can access the previous topic, or the next one, with buttons of the same name, or select a topic from a plan outline. Another button returns you to the Task Wizard.
Besides the extensive wizards, the program offers built-in "plan versus actual" analysis, so you can compare real outcomes to predicted results.
Hot To Buy
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Jian Tools for Sales Inc., 1975 W. El Camino Real, #301, Mountain View, CA 94040, (800) 346-5426
John O'Hara's Pool Service, 3476 McLaughlin Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90066, (310) 390-5869
MediaCom Corp., 4 Preston Ct., Bedford, MA 01730, http://www.phonemiser.com
Palo Alto Software, 144 E. 14th Ave., Eugene, OR 97401, (800) 229-7526
Power Knowledge Software LLC, (888) 797-5669, http://www.powerknowledge.com