Plan to Plan

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The surest sign that the entrepreneurial markets have been forever altered by the crash of 2001 can be seen in the changes to business planning software.

On the eve of 2005, it is clear that IPOs are still hard to come by, venture capital has all but disappeared, and funding of any kind is hard to find. This is reflected in software for business plan development in five ways:

1. Planning now requires a stronger emphasis on marketing and profitability. Long the weakest part of business plans, the marketing section now commands the attention of investors who want to know when they will get their money back.

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2. Cash flow analyses are more extensive and more important. In the free-wheeling days of the late 1990s, it was not uncommon for a start-up to burn through millions of dollars in cash with no end-and no profits-in sight. Those days are long gone.

3. It's all in the presentation. For decades, the presentation of the plan has been a secondary consideration. Investors, it was believed, did not care about the presentation but instead focused only on the facts and figures. But in today's environment, the ability to sell the plan is almost as important as the plan itself.

4. The text is getting simpler. The flourishes and impressive tone of the templates is slowly yielding to more concise language and better organization. In addition, there is more recognition of the differences between plans in different industries, leading to more specialization in the templates.

5. The packages are increasingly book plus disk. Initially, some software was created to implement concepts from a single author's planning guide. Then established software products began to offer books as a means to better explain the planning process. Today, few packages can succeed if they do not offer both the software and the book, even if it is published in electronic form.

This review covers the top six business planning software packages, each of which takes a unique approach or conceptual direction. Some are template-based products, while others rely on interactive interviews and wizards. Some are a combination of the two. All have significant strengths, have built a successful following in the accounting industry, and are worthy of consideration, depending on the needs of the client and the type of practice the accountant is seeking to build.

Automate Your Business Plan 11.0

Automate Your Business Plan is a combination book and software program from Linda Pinson, the publisher who literally "wrote the book" on business planning-the U.S. Small Business Administration publication, "How To Write a Business Plan."

The package comes with both the software on CD and the fifth edition of "Anatomy of a Business Plan," a step-by-step guide to building the business plan.

Aimed at the entrepreneur or small business owner, the software combines text documents with spreadsheet financial statements. The Version 11.0 upgrade is a substantial revision of capabilities from previous versions, and new features of note in the version include an integrated financial workbook that saves time and effort in updating financial statements. The linked statements replace a set of individual financial pages that needed to be customized and managed individually, and now also include a wizard for rapid development of the chart of accounts.

A new charting and graphing component called "First Impressions" automatically generates six graphs and charts from the financial data that can be saved as graphic files and imported into the text of the plan or presentations. Also generated from the data is a financial statement analysis with four separate quarterly budget spreadsheets that present an overview of the company's profitability and critical ratios.

In addition to its excellent examples and patient guidance through the planning process, Automate Your Business Plan is highly flexible and customizable, from the ability to plan for either existing businesses or new ones to the selection of word processing features that include the use of tables and bullets. Though the graphical interface of the software is somewhat dated, the content and style have kept pace with current trends and the software is easy to navigate.

Much of the content of the software program was re-written in 2002 and further updated in Version 11.0 to reflect the changing requirements of lenders and venture capitalists and to keep pace with changes in the book. These included a rewrite of the marketing plan section to allow for both basic and advanced marketing planning.

The product also provides extensive additional resources, from the Research Resource List and Tax Planning Help built into the software to a support Web site that provides extended resource lists and capabilities.

Automate Your Business Plan is an excellent primer for accountants new to the text and marketing side of business planning, as well as for small or new businesses in need of a plan for guidance or additional funding. It compares well with other leading software packages and excels at the printed guidance and sample plans included in the book.

Automate Your Business Plan 11.0

Tustin, Calif.

Phone: (714) 544-0248

www.business-plan.com

Price: Download (with eBook), $90;

CD (with book), $95.

Biz Plan Builder 2005

Burke Franklin formed JIAN (originally named Tools For Sales) in July 1986 to develop sales promotion materials. He also applied his sales and marketing experience to the production of business plans for his clients, leading to the development in 1988 of the first version of BizPlan Builder. Now in its tenth version, it remains an excellent foundation for taut, concise writing, and clear presentation of ideas.

BizPlanBuilder uses a series of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets built around five types of business plans: concept, service, retail, product, and Internet. Each type is broken down into relevant sections for that type of business. Within each segment, a series of questions that both provide a means to cover the essentials and provide samples of writing styles, challenge the writer. This approach-using a smaller number of flexible plans rather than hundreds of sample plans-reduces clutter and makes the program easier to navigate.

The financial statements are built in one of three levels: basic, intermediate, and comprehensive. The basic level provides a quick snapshot of the financial health of the company. The intermediate offers the linked financial statements favored by investors. The comprehensive level presents management information, including the cash flow forecasting system and bottom-up or top-down scenario building. The intermediate and comprehensive levels present a quick-fill section for assumptions in order to set up financial statements and "what-if" scenarios.

New to the financial section are several crucial worksheets. A revised ratio analysis shows success indicators and trends. The valuation model includes formulas using the Harvard Method, First Chicago (a common VC formula), Discounted Future Cashflow, and Weighted Average of all four. The "Investor Deal Development & Analysis" sheet enables planning for several rounds of financing plus an IPO. Finally, the "Equity/Ownership Give-Up" previews the deal and shows the owner's value with investment.

Unique to Biz PlanBuilder are a number of compelling support documents. These include sample articles of incorporation; a statement of core values; a news release template; forms needed to manage investors and stock options; and a host of other vitally important documents that most other planning programs don't include but that are essential to financing, launching, and operating a business.

While it looks much the same as its predecessors, the 2005 version uses a different programming platform-business plans created in previous versions will need to be manually imported. The financials in Excel are likewise newly developed, and previous data will need to be re-entered. The new version also sports a new multi-user collaborative capability for planners who need to share files on a LAN or with a far-flung team over the Internet.

Biz Plan Builder, a high-value, comprehensive business planning solution, is made better by a continuous process of listening to customers and revising the software to reflect changing moods and needs among financial advisors, funding sources, and entrepreneurs. Its proven track record in securing financing and its strong support among small businesses make it one of the strongest planning packages on the market today.

Biz Plan Builder 2005

JIAN

Mill Valley, Calif.

(800) 346-5426

www.jian.com

Price: $99.99.

Business Plan Pro 2005

Tim Berry's Business Plan Pro, the best-selling business plan package available in the retail markets, is routinely included in the Amazon.com top 10 list for business software. A robust planning system, it offers an extensive library of more than 400 sample business plans segregated by industry and superb analytical capabilities.

The software is designed to achieve two goals. First, Business Plan Pro uses an extensive system of expert advice, templates, and wizards to generate a plan outline, tables, charts, and analysis for the finished plan. Second, and equally important, the planning process enables the planner to learn and understand every facet of the business in order to understand and respond to questions with competence and the facts to back it up. The plan can be printed for use in a format acceptable to both the Small Business Administration and banks, or can be exported into Microsoft Office and RTF, PDF, or HTML documents.

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