Business Plan 11 PremierReviews, Software — By Michael Larner
Two days before writing this article, dozens of people around the world celebrated the birthday of a renowned hero: Batman. No, it wasn’t the birthday of Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, Christian Bale, or anybody else who might have played the character of Batman over the years. It was the anniversary of the birth of legendary figure. Just over 70 years ago, the Dark Knight made his debut appearance and quickly became one of the world’s most legendary heroes.
So what does this have to do with Business Plan Pro 11.0? Just as Batman sprang from the mind of his creators to become the protector of Gotham City, Business Plan Pro has become the shining beacon upon the hill for budding entrepreneurs. That’s quite a claim to make, so now let me back it up:
I’ve long been a proponent of the mentality “If you have to read the instructions in order to figure it out, then it’s too complicated.” Well, the folks over at Palo Alto Software must have a similar opinion. Up until now, I’ve never written a business plan, primarily because I had no idea how. I didn’t know what details to include, how to organize them, or even how to begin. Sure, I know that a business plan should include a feasibility analysis, a marketing plan, a sales forecast, etc., but that doesn’t mean that I actually know how to create these components. What I loved about Business Plan Pro is that the software didn’t even bother trying to teach me how to do it. Let me walk you through my experience.
When I launched the software I was walked through a nine-step setup wizard, which automatically customized my business plan to fit my needs. The first question asked how detailed I wanted, or needed, my plan to be. The simplest plan is comprised of fifteen tasks while the detailed plan has a Herculean 70 tasks to complete. Step 2: English or Spanish? No hablo español muy bien. Step 3: Is this a new business or is the plan for an ongoing business? Step 4: When will your plan start? Step 5: Name your plan. Step 6: Would you like to include any of these additional items (SWOT analysis, Website planning – you can always add them later)? Step 7: Do you sell services, products, or both? Step 8: Are you a nonprofit? Step 9: Would you like a standard-term plan or a long-term plan? Finish. That’s it. That’s how easy it was to get started. No fuss. No software glitches. No questions about my favorite pet. Just the bare essentials. It took me longer to type out this paragraph about the nine questions than to actually answer them!
So once I had completed the set-up wizard things must have gotten overwhelmingly complicated right? Nope. My personalized plan had 52 tasks to complete, which were divided into 13 categories. Each of these tasks took me between 5 minutes and a couple of hours to complete, though to be fair, the only tasks that took more than 30 minutes were those having to do with market research. Each task has about a paragraph of instructions detailing what I should include in that particular section, plus samples from between two and six other semi-pertinent business plans that are meant to give the user a better idea of how to put those instructions into action. As you complete each task, you simply hit the “next task” button and move on. At the end, the software automatically compiles all of the information into a professional looking business plan complete with charts and tables based on the information that you provided throughout the guided process.
But Business Plan Pro isn’t just a great piece of software. It’s a great business-planning tool. Along with the software, users get access to over 500 sample business plans spanning 27 different industries – from pet grooming to medical and health care. Equally as impressive is the Resource utility that has links, tips, coupons, support, and articles on everything from perfecting your presentation skills, attracting funding (including a nifty venture capital browser), links for helping you to get started on market research, and a small overview to every legal question a small startup business could have (most information provided by Nolo – an established firm that has been publishing “do it yourself” legal guides since 1971).
All in all, I only have one complaint about Business Plan Pro 11.0. As easy as it was to use the software, sometimes the instructional paragraphs for each of the tasks were a little too sparse. Granted, it is good to be concise, many of the tasks seemed awfully similar to each other and I found myself looking to the examples for clarification as to what I should include in each section. Clearer explanations would have limited some of this confusion, but overall, I feel that Business Plan Pro definitely did what it was designed to do.
So I guess there’s only one last thing to decide: Standard or Premier? The Standard copy, which retails for $99.95, has about 75% of the features that the Premier edition, which retails for twice the price at $199.95, has, but I’d say that most small business owners could do without the missing 25%. Unless you want to be able to import you financial data from Excel or QuickBooks, compare your projected financial performance with your actual earnings, create customizable business plan templates, or use Business Plan Pro to calculate the valuation of your business and create investment offerings, then the Standard software pack is more than adequate. Personally, I think that most small business owners will probably use Excel and/or QuickBooks along with other, more appropriate, software packages to actually manage their business so some of these features seem superfluous, but for anybody planning to attract outside funding or eventually sell their business, the valuation and investment offering features may make investing in the Premier version worthwhile worth it (though I didn’t get a chance to try those out).
Overall, Business Plan Pro 11.0 is a fantastic piece of software that I plan to make an integral tool in my business arsenal. My philosophy may be that products should be simple enough so that you don’t have to read the instructions, but given how powerful this tool has been so far, for once, I find myself wanting to.
*Images provided by the Manufacturer