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Home Office Computing
Joel T. Patz

Step by Step Business Planning

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The programs in this roundup aim to help you do more than just put words and numbers on paper. They help you organize your work, forcing you to think logically about many of the issues confronting new business efforts. Most offer tips and suggestions about what to think about when preparing a plan, then help you assemble the package into a credible whole. Some even provide business tips and a list of resources you can consult for more information.

The programs take one of two approaches: templates or interactive applications. The first provides templates for the word processing and spreadsheet programs you are already familiar with. In terms of the quality of the guidance and the final document, however, we found the template approach less helpful than the second category of programs. The interactive group guides you through building a custom plan with an interview or helps you develop text and numbers by following examples displayed in front of you. The interactive products generally use a split screen for the text or financial sections of your plan, offering explanations or samples in the screen top half and a custom word processor or spreadsheet in the lower half. The programs then consolidate text, graphics, and attractive charts into a printable plan, with content and format quality varying from good to excellent.

For this buyer guide, we looked at nine Windows and Macintosh business plan packages... Plan Write is the best product for guiding you through the stormy waters of creating a business plan. Even before you start the interactive interview process, Plan Write can step you through a basic break-even analysis. The program asks you for the unit cost, average unit price, number of units you will sell and operating expenses, then displays a break-even chart with explanatory text customized to your situation.

The plan writing process starts when you click the Text button. The screen offers an explanation of each topic (called a Rationale) and an example at the top of the screen, either of which you can copy complete with a single mouse to the bottom half of the screen, where you compose your text. You can also switch to a full-screen view and use the text editor.

When dealing with financial information, Plan Write stands apart from the rest. You enter values one-by-one on some screens, viewing an explanation for each entry at the top. As you progress, you will soon see a summary spreadsheet that consolidates all the previous information. When we wanted to change a value, we just clicked on it in the summary spreadsheet and Plan Write took us to the original data entry screen, then let us jump back to the summary. That is unprecedented in plan writing software. For screens that let you enter data for an entire year, you left-click the mouse button on the row header (such as Royalties) to read an explanation of what should be included in this category.

Your financial data is instantly reflected in the good cross-section of charts. Double-click a bar in a bar chart and Plan Write takes you back to the financial screen where that data was originally entered; click on the Next button and you are back to your chart.

The program includes an excellent outline view for jumping between topics, and you can even use it to insert new text topics, spreadsheets, or charts anywhere you like. If you are stumped for ideas, click on the Internet button for access to more than 100 Web sites containing tips for using the program, improving your business plan, and locating investors.

Also reviewed in this article:
Automate Your Business Plan
BizPlanBuilder
Business HeadStart
Business Plan Pro
Business Plan Toolkit
Business Plan Writer
PlanMaker
Plan Write Best Buy
Smart Business Plan

 

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