This article by Stuart Adams appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal on December 31st, 1995
as part of the Louisville Bar Association Business Q & A Series
Q: I need to do a business plan. I've never done one before and need some help. Is there some kind of software program that can help me?
A: Creating your first business plan can appear to be an overwhelming job. The amount of thought and research that distinguishes a good and useful plan from a bad one should not be underestimated. Keeping in mind one of the mottos of any project, "garbage in; garbage out," there are now some very helpful software programs on the market to help you breeze through the creation phase.
When shopping for a program, be sure it is compatible with your current hardware and software. For instance, be sure the software will run on your operating system (such as DOS, Windows or Mac). Look at the memory and processor speed requirements on the box and, when in doubt, ask the salesperson.
Also be sure the software will allow you to edit its product in your word processor program or export the data tables or charts to your comparable program. Many software programs are "integrated" in that they incorporate a scaled-down word processor or data-base program that may not be compatible with your other programs. While the output may be sufficient for your purposes, you may have difficulty making modifications later. Check the back or side of the box for "import/export" compatibility and ability to work with your other programs.
Another tip is to get some "freeware" or "shareware" versions of business planning software. Many of these programs can be downloaded from the business forums on services such as America Online, CompuServe or elsewhere on the Internet. You can try many of these programs free and send in a modest fee to the author if you decide to use a program.
One item of "freeware" you might start with is "How to Write a Business Plan," available from the American Institute of Small Business. This is a document rather than a program, but it will give you an overview of the business plan and it contains a questionnaire designed to help you choose the right business for your talents. It also has a checklist of important details for getting your business off the ground.
Some of the many commercial software programs are listed below. Many have several alternative templates structured for different types of business. The templates can, for instance, help you write a service based company plan rather than a retail company plan. Here are the details:
Developing a Successful Business Plan, available from Entrepreneur Magazine for about $70 in DOS, Windows and Mac formats, (800) 421-2300.
BizPlan Builder (Jian Tools for Sales) includes spreadsheet templates.
Plan Maker (Power Solutions for Business) includes a manual, and each section has a questionnaire to help you formulate your answers to the questions it poses.
Business Plan Pro (Palo Alto Software) puts an outline on your word processor along with a questionnaire.
Any good program should ask you some very tough questions about your business and how it will compare on many levels with others competing in your prospective arena. If the program doesn't force these out of you, it may not be a good program. To help fill in the blanks where the software programs allow or as necessity requires, you can research and download patent information, demographics, competitor and product information, and maps from online services.
There are even investor networks online. These services and sites are constantly changing and new sites are springing up quickly. Some data bases carry an additional charge. You might try some of these to get started:
SBA Online - Bulletin board with downloadable files including ones about loans; (800) 697-4636.
The Microsoft Small Business Center - American Online keyword MSBC), articles arranged by topic.
Entrepreneur's Small Business Forum - CompuServe (go USEN), information and resource center.