YOUNG MONEY asked Troy Byrd, co-founder of Bryant College’s Global Entrepreneurship Program, to review several software products intended for small business owners. This article is the first installment of a four part series featuring such products.
Creating a Business Plan
Palo Alto’s Business Plan Pro® 2005 touts itself as “The fastest way to write a business plan” so as a young entrepreneur I was eager to put it to the test. After the initial software installation was complete, I was brought to a prompt allowing me to start a new business plan, open a sample plan, or open a plan already in progress.
I chose to create a new plan and quickly learned that the program uses a series of “help Wizards” to guide users through the setup process. For example, the EasyPlan Wizard guided me though the steps to start my business plan with selections at the bottom of the screen, and a brief description/instructions at the top.
The Wizard first asked me a series of questions dealing with whether or not I was going to be selling products or services, and if I would be running a profit or nonprofit business. Eventually, I came across some questions that were very specific to the type of business plan I would be setting up, which was for a consulting service.
After the initial “Plan Setup” was complete, I moved on to the next section called “concept kick-start.” This section is where the basic business assessment is completed. Things like the mission statement, objectives and “keys to success” are entered into this portion of the Wizard.
Next, I went on to the “Your Company” part of the wizard, which listed a reference to one of the resource books Palo Alto included with the software. The “Starting a Business” section of the book is meant to help users with filling out the next step.
The program’s “Market” section allowed me to input the customers I was targeting as well as the projected growth rate over the next five years. The sales forecasting section allowed me to input some rough numbers as to what I would be earning in revenues. The marketing plan portion then prompted me to either create a new plan, or import an existing one from Palo Alto’s Marketing Plan Pro. Since I have not had a chance to make a marketing plan yet, I chose to move on to the next step.
The next few steps involved mapping out the content to be included on my business’s Web page. More financial information was also provided, such as creating a break-even analysis and start-up costs. All these fields were handled the same way as the others.
Customizing Your Business Plan
After completing the rest of this financial information, I was prompted to search for my company type in a database of profiles. I typed in “consulting” in the search box, and Business Plan Pro pulled up a list of businesses related to that word. I chose “computer related consulting” as it was the closest match to any of the items in the list. The final step was said to be a “Finish and Polish” portion of the setup Wizard. A section on business strategy and implementation was brought up, as well as one marking down important milestones for my future business.
At the end of the Wizard process there was an option to “review my plan.” This feature is intended to review the plan for any critical errors and possible problems. As the Wizard ran through my plan I realized it was checking mainly for financial statement errors and conflicts. It also cross-referenced things like company growth and sales forecasts with a database of the established “industry standards/common figures.”
If the review Wizard saw something that didn’t check out, it would throw up a red flag, represented with a large red X, and then offer a description of the problem and why it was flagged. Finally, the Wizard brought me back to the section conclusion, and offered up some suggested reading in the “Hurdle” book included in the product package.
Overall, I was very satisfied with my experience using Business Plan Pro 2005. I went into this review not having ever used any actual business plan software so I really didn’t know what to expect. I never thought I would be able to construct the entire plan just by using the setup Wizards provided.
The descriptions of some of the more complicated financial sections were helpful in deciphering what type of information needed to go in that particular section of the plan. Reviewing the plan is just as easy as making it, as is exporting the plan to a print preview, or to PowerPoint slides.
The main menu was exceptionally easy to navigate through, and I had no trouble opening and editing my saved business plan. Considering I was able to create a fairly detailed business plan for my business in under two hours and have it all automatically indexed for me, I would highly recommend this software to young entrepreneurs.
Copyright © 2004. YOUNG MONEY®
Product: Business Plan Pro 2005
Manufacturer: Palo Alto Software (www.paloalto.com)
Cost (website orders): Standard Version – $99.95, Premier Version – $199
-Extremely easy to use
-Additional information available throughout the entire plan set-up process, including examples as well as detailed descriptions
-Does not require the user to know details about the structure of a business plan, the help Wizards are all encompassing
-Large database of real business plans to look at for reference/ideas
-Resources available to export your business plan to Microsoft’s PowerPoint
-Links within program to various companies that could be of assistance to your business (logo design firm, legal firms, etc.)
-Text entry windows lack the auto-formatting and spell check features found in common word processing apps, such as Microsoft Word
-Interface isn’t very asthetically pleasing
-Coversheet of the business plan appears to be off-center (in print-preview window)
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