Business Planning for Startups and Old Hands
Not all businesses take the same route to success, and the same can be said about business planning solutions. We looked at two products designed to help your business create the documentation it needs to get financial help, such as loans or equity investments: Palo Alto Software's long-established Business Plan Pro software, now available in version 11.0, and PlanHQ, a Web-based newcomer.
Business Plan Pro 11.0 helps you create polished, professional business plans backed up by solid financials you can take to the bank. PlanHQ, meanwhile, is more of a diamond in the rough; its emphasis is on managing the planning process.
The fresh-faced PlanHQ service facilitates an innovative, collaborative approach to developing a business plan. It helps employees, investors, and other interested parties collaborate on refining the model and the vision for the business. You invite those you wish to participate in planning--other employees, board members, financial advisors, and venture capitalists--to join your PlanHQ Web site.
I love the way PlanHQ gives the staid business plan a dynamic jolt, turning it into an active document that adjusts to changing circumstances. Team members can establish and assign planning goals, along with specific actions that help achieve those goals. They can vote on whether they think things are on track or not and post comments on developments.
Unfortunately, PlanHQ falls short when it comes to helping you flesh out the details of your business plan. It offers the bare bones of plan structure, but it doesn't provide the guidance to help inexperienced business planners put meat on those bones. It can prepare some financials and reports, but they're not nearly as detailed and in-depth as those created by Business Plan Pro and will fall short of the expectations of many business-plan readers.
PlanHQ sells the sizzle of business planning using bright and lively graphics, but it doesn't quite deliver the steak. A perfect example of its misplaced priorities: Step one in the planning process asks you to upload your company logo. A nifty logo and a sketchy group-developed business concept might have passed muster before the tech bubble burst in 2001, but it's not enough to crack open the wallets of today's savvy financiers.
PlanHQ costs from $9 to $49 per month, depending upon the number of users and active goals. The $9-per-month Mini version allows for 3 users and 10 active goals; the $24-per-month Small version allows for 10 users and 15 active goals; the $49-per-month Pro version has no limit on users or goals. A free 30-day trial is available.
Business Plan Pro 11.0
Unlike PlanHQ's collaborative approach, Business Plan Pro assumes that one planner quarterbacks the business plan. You can select from one of four levels of business-planning detail: a simple business description and a single-worksheet financial statement; a standard plan with multiple topics and linked financials; a detailed business plan that is suitable for a larger organization that has complex financial requirements; or a plan that features financials and nothing else.
You don't need to prepare a business plan beforehand to follow the process. The software provides easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions. Those instructions range from 15 steps in the simple plan to 69 steps in the detailed plan.
One of Business Plan Pro's nicest features is the way you can browse more than 500 sample business plans. This gives the business-planning newbie an idea of what works. The bundled manual is well-written, and the software also comes with a start-up guidebook; both provide more valuable insight into business planning. Even many seasoned business planning professionals should be able to pick up a few good tips from the included documentation.
The software comes in two editions: Business Plan Pro 11.0 Standard Edition ($100) includes the basics and is targeted at startups or young businesses, while Business Plan Pro 11.0 Premier Edition ($200) is for more-established businesses--it can compare actual results to planned results and import a plan from a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
PlanHQ vs. Business Plan Pro
PlanHQ is good for young business startups or any company that doesn't have a long history of operations. It's built for organizations whose path to making money may change depending on developing circumstances. Its breezy approach will appeal to starry-eyed new business planners, but flint-hearted bank managers will expect a 25-page plus write-up to support a loan proposal. And bank managers don't want a log-in ID to your way-cool PlanHQ site that may expose team bickering.
Business Plan Pro also can be used by startups, but it really shines for the more-established organization that already knows what business it's in. It's aimed at companies that have already decided on a growth path but want to plan for improvement.
This tried-and-true software helps you prepare a polished, written business plan. Price: Standard Edition, $100; Premier Edition, $200
New and innovative, this collaborative online business planning service doesn't offer all the help it should. Price: $9 to $49 per month