The major news in business plans and planning software in 2006 is that the plans are intended more for management than money.As most business planning software came into being, in the boom economies of the 1990s, the focus was on how best to launch new enterprises, secure initial funding or lure venture capitalists. While there is still extensive use of the software for these purposes, there is also a stronger emphasis on managing the company by implementing the plan.

This has led to three major changes in both the structure and purpose of the plans.

* Planning has become a more serious business. Venture capitalists and boards of directors no longer view business plans as rough approximations or forecasts. Rather, they expect to see performance that mirrors the projections, and are holding managers accountable if they don't faithfully execute the plans.

* There is a stronger emphasis on marketing and sales. Long the weakest part of business plans, the marketing section now commands more attention and respect.

* Collaboration is important. Cash flow may be the soul of the company, but collaboration has become the key to staying on plan. Nearly all of the packages offer ways to share the plan and keep it current.

This review covers the top seven 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 you are seeking to build.

Automate Your Business Plan 12.0

If anyone knows how to write a business plan, it is Linda Pinson. The author of the award-winning Anatomy of a Business Plan and the Small Business Administration publication How to Write a Business Plan, Pinson brings that expertise to bear in the latest version of her software, Automate Your Business Plan.

This version builds on many of the enhancements introduced in Version 11.0, which included an integrated financial workbook, linked statements to replace a set of individual financial pages, and a wizard for rapid development of the chart of accounts.

Version 12.0 brings the ability to edit the chart of accounts without recreating it from scratch, accrual-versus-cash accounting for sales, an expansion of the linked spreadsheets for financials, and the ability to save text documents in PDF format. In addition, the plan itself can be saved in a PAR format for easy transfer from one computer to another.

Automate Your Business Plan is highly flexible and customizable - from the ability to plan for either existing businesses or new ones to the availability of tables and bullets in the word processing module. It 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.

Both the book and the software offer a wealth of information for novice plan writers. One item of note is that the planning process begins with a short primer on why the exit strategy is the most important part of the plan - a critical element overlooked by most planning software.

Automate Your Business Plan is aimed at the novice or entrepreneur, but offers amenities such as customer support for both the software and for business planning, and a financial worksheet format that makes the accounting part of the plan more comprehensible to non-accountants. It deserves a space on any accountant's bookshelf.

BizPlanBuilder 2006

JIAN's focus on business planning is tighter and more concise than many of its competitors, with a strong dose of sales and marketing insights that help the plan serve as a working document rather than just a financial tool.

BizPlanBuilder uses a series of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets built around five types of business plans - Concept, Service, Retail, Product and Internet. Each of the five types of plan is divided into relevant sections for that type of business. Within each segment, the writer is challenged by a series of questions that provide a means to cover the essentials, then provided with samples of writing styles. 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 provides 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 offer 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 a weighted average of all four. The Investor Deal Development & Analysis sheet enables planning for several rounds of financing plus an initial public. Finally, the Equity/Ownership Give-Up previews the deal and shows the owner's value with investment.

Version 10 for 2006 has been extensively overhauled, with the inclusion of multi-user capabilities, online tools for collaboration and the ability to add documents from other sources into the finished plan. There are also a new Use of Funds Summary and a unique "investor scratch pad" that allows potential investors to play their own "what-if" scenarios with the financial data.

BizPlanBuilder remains a very popular planning tool based on an interview/knowledgebase platform. Its popularity since 1986 is based both on its successful use in a diverse range of industries and on its simple but effective presentation options for the final plan.

Business Plan Pro 2006

Tim Berry's Business Plan Pro is a robust, wizard-driven software product built around both an expert help system and a library of more than 500 existing business plans. Part of the Palo Alto Software family of planning products, Business Plan Pro is the best-selling planning software available in the retail channel.

Two planning books are included with the package - Guy Kawasaki's The Art of the Start and Tim Berry's Hurdle - The Book on Business Planning. There are two versions of the software, clearly differentiated, with the Standard edition covering start-ups and sole proprietorships. For larger enterprises, the Business Plan Pro 2006 Premier software expands on the basic edition with e-mail-based collaboration tools that allow a plan to be created by a team, multiple plans to be combined into a single document, and the ability to save the plan outline centrally for use by distributed departments.

New in the 2006 version are an increase in the number of sample business plans, enhanced options for financial planning, SWOT analysis (Strengths and Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats), comparative key ratios for 9,000 industries, and the ability to create five different kinds of business plan - a loan document, a new product or service description, a financial plan, a marketing plan or a complete business plan. The Premier edition is also enhanced with new chapters for valuation, exit strategy and financial risks; a payback period calculator; and a section in which to specify use of funds for loan or investment documents.

Business Plan Pro 2006 clearly lives up to its billing as a top-shelf application, with a sophisticated EasyPlan wizard system and formatting options that generate a clean and effective business plan. A plan review system helps to eliminate oversights and errors, table wizards take much of the stress out of the financial tables, and the finished product can be exported as an RTF, PDF or PowerPoint presentation. While both editions offer similar features, accountants will want to focus on the Premier edition for its additional capabilities - particularly the information on critical insights into payback periods and exit strategies.

PlanGuru 7.5

PlanGuru continues to be the only business planning tool designed specifically for the accounting professional. It is designed to help accountants build their business advisory services by offering multiple-scenario projections for smaller clients or executive summaries for larger enterprises.

PlanGuru is offered in three versions. Expanding on PlanGuru Professional, a Forecaster Edition provides engagement tools and better import/export features, as well as the ability to consolidate up to 20 projections. The Consultant Edition has all of the features of the Forecaster Edition, plus the Performance Measurement Tools to benchmark the client's performance, and creates business valuations using three income approach methods. And an add-on Business Analyzer is a special tool for creating detailed snapshots of a business beyond what is offered in the financial statements.

Examples of the accounting orientation are straightforward - the tabbed, spreadsheet-style interface is a format familiar to accountants, but eliminates the need to use formulas or macros. The finished reports are designed to comply with American Institute of CPAs standards. The Forecaster and Consultant versions include engagement tools for drafting the accountant's report, procedures checklists and other essentials.

The Professional Edition imports from and exports to Excel and ASCII text files. The Forecaster and Consultant Editions add the ability to import data directly from QuickBooks and Peachtree accounting software. Projections can be made for one year, two years or three years on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis for up to five years - and can be started mid-year. The program can store an unlimited number of companies with an unlimited number of projections for each, with up to 10 prior periods for reporting and analysis.

Version 7.5 corrects some minor issues that arose with the upgrade to Version 7.0, but otherwise is an incremental upgrade. When using the "Fixed" projection method, you can now automatically set amounts for projected priors equal to the prior year's amount. It offers the ability to calculate an amount in one period based on an amount in a previous period. The Consultant Edition includes a new business valuation discount rate calculator, and the latest 2005 database from RMA has been integrated into the Business Analyzer.

While it is not a comprehensive plan writer - lacking some of the text tools of other packages - PlanGuru offers an excellent approach to the basics of business planning and scenario-building in a format custom-made for the accounting professional. It is a tool useful for financial modeling and planning, as well as crafting the financials for a business plan, and is a must-have tool for accountants.

PlanMagic Business Advanced Edition 9.0

PlanMagic Business is a business planning product designed to work seamlessly with Microsoft Office to produce, update and present business plans. It differs from other planning products with its nearly completed, industry-specific business plan templates and its fully automated financials, where consecutive years are pre-filled by using increase percentages or averages.

PlanMagic Business produces the text in MS Word, the financials in MS Excel and the plan presentation in MS Powerpoint. An included guide to business planning covers subjects such as organizational structure, financing (owners' equity, foreign capital), marketing (market analysis, business goals, marketing strategies, advertising), operations (business identity, business location), business financials (projections, historic analysis, ratios) and more.

Version 9.0 provides two generic plan templates (one for products and one for services), plus a third template selected by the user from the list of 30 plans covering such diverse businesses as a record comany, a veterinary clinic or a bowling center.

The Advanced Edition expands PlanMagic Business with a retail store plan template and extended financials. The financials in AE include additional assumptions, detailed advertising and promotion plans, a detailed break-even analysis per product line, unlimited what-if scenarios, annual dynamic sensitivity analysis (best/worst case scenarios) for five years, and even an exchange rate multiplier. Version 9.0 also provides incremental improvements, such as a categorized income statement, more than 45 automated charts, and macros for printing and export.

PlanMagic may seem limited in comparison to products that offer literally hundreds of templates and two or more guides to business planning. But that's a deceptive comparison, because PlanMagic presents more complete plans, better financial automation and also plans that seem better suited to small business. There are fewer plans for global enterprises, and more plans for local, national and Web-based businesses.

Overall, PlanMagic Business 9.0 offers an economical and functional product that accountants will find useful for its real-world orientation and flexibility. It provides realistic insights into the businesses it covers using state-of-the-art financial analysis tools, and that makes it a prized planning tool among accountants.

PlanWrite Expert Edition 8.0

PlanWrite Expert Edition is vastly different from other planning tools, largely because of its roots in expert systems and artificial intelligence. The result is a remarkable planning system highly valued by corporations looking to build or hone effective strategies.

Plan Write itself is a straightforward planning tool, with software built on the published business models of over 100 experts in marketing, planning and strategy that include Michael Porter's Five Forces Model, the Competitive Advantage Model, the Boston Consulting Group Matrix and the GE Business Screen. It offers templates, wizards and extensive help through hyperlinks. It also provides insights into factors that will affect success, and a series of more than 35 charts to graphically demonstrate how the product or service stands up to proven marketing models.

Navigation of the program is accomplished through eight buttons on the left side of the screen - Resources; Interview, with the initial business analysis; Narration, for text entry;

Financials, for projections; Charts; Milestones, to measure the plan's success; Plan Audit, to check for completeness and spelling; and View, to see a fully formatted edition of the plan prior to printing.

Here's where the differences begin. In place of the standard prose, financial statements and presentation output is an extensive expert knowledge system based on the planner's responses to an interview survey. Additional questions guide input of the financial data. And in the Expert Edition, the final plan is compared to the Expert database to flag problem areas and help to guide a stronger, more concise plan.

New for 2006 are a graphic estimator for financials, an organization chart wizard, the ability to compare financial data against key industry averages, an interface with QuickBooks, and the ability to create PowerPoint presentations from selected data within the plan.

Plan Write Expert Edition is a knowledge-based system for business plan development, the only software of its kind in the business planning market. Its tight focus on successful plans and reliance on proven business expertise make it an indispensable tool for accountants, particularly serving growing and established businesses.

Ultimate Business Planner 3.0

Ultimate Business Planner is a fast, stylish product from the company that built the business planning technology for QuickBooks Premier 2006. Aimed at entrepreneurs, it uses more than 1,000 sample business plans, enhanced start-up resources, small business loan information and other assets to help get companies up and running or attract further financing.

In a sense, Ultimate Business Planner 3.0 is an extension of the company's Ultimate Financial Forecaster. To this financial foundation, UBP adds plain-English interviews, instructions, advice and output. Final plans are then published as exports to MS Word and Excel, as PDF files, or as imports to QuickBooks. The result is a stand-alone planning system that combines speed, accuracy and solid financials to output a finished plan with over 65 reports and charts.

The interface, like that of other programs aimed at entrepreneurs, is simple without being spartan. The navigation is via top-bar icons, the displays are colorful and easy to follow, and the plan itself is built to be customizable. The powerful financial system easily creates projected profit and loss statements, cash plans, balance sheets, financial ratios and more. And a built-in plan review tool examines the output to avoid costly mistakes and oversights.

Version 3.0 has increased the number of available pre-written business plans; improved the output options; and enhanced the number of available start-up resources - including SBA loan programs and those of Score and economic development offices. Also enhanced are formatting options and improvements to the review tool.

Ultimate Business Planner is one of the best examples of business plans built on pre-written samples. Its strength lies not only in its firm financial foundation, but in its tight integration with QuickBooks. These two make Ultimate Business Planner 3.0 ideal for accountants servicing small and entrepreneurial clients.

Dave McClure is the president of Kent Associates, in Alexandria, Va., an independent testing laboratory and evaluation service.

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