Palo Alto Software
We reviewed the standard version of the Business Plan Pro package which has been completely rewritten to make it faster and more intuitive. As with previous editions it comes with excellent resources including a helpful quick start guide and movie, plus a business planning hand-book (PDF format) that explains the reasoning behind business planning.
Each step in the process has lots of examples and clear instructions. For many, tackling the financial aspects of business plans can be daunting, however the financial guidance that is included in the various sections make it fairly easy, even to someone not used to financial planning. Finally it finishes with a polished and professional looking result complete with graphs and tables. Highly Recommended
The Business Plan Software is suitable for Windows Vista, XP or 2000, but not available for linux or Mac operating systems. Most PCs would be powerful enough to run it, since it is not resource hungry. Included as a PDF file is a business planning book, "Hurdle: The Book on Business Planning" by Tim Berry.
There are two ways of obtaining this package, you can download the complete software straight away, or order a CD ROM. We chose to download the software, which was quick and went without a hitch.
Note that to have access to the 500+ sample plans available and other supporting resources, you do need to be connected to the internet. It could be used as a stand-alone however, since there are also plan examples within each section, but you'd miss out on some of the additional help.
This version of Business Plan Pro contains a 9 minute movie that is essentially a "step-by-step" tutorial explaining how to get started, additionally there is a "getting started" guide, both tailored for the UK. We found these easy to follow with clear instructions.
Like many of the business plan packages available, this programme again originated in the States, however this version has been well tailored for the UK market, which many are not. There is UK VAT information and local currency.
A new feature this year is being able to output the section headings of the plan in English, Spanish, French, Italian or German. Handy if you are writing it in, for example, French for a colleague. There is a bit of an over-reliance on USA business plan examples, although some UK specific ones are dotted about and they are all relevant examples anyway.
In setting the plan up you can decide if you want to do a complete plan, or just simple plan with basic financial summary. Alternatively you can do the finance part as a stand alone, if you don’t need all the descriptive sections.
You can also chose to include a SWOT analysis, or even a web site strategy section for your business. This gives a very flexible tool for almost every conceivable situation.
The questions asked at set-up allow you to choose your type of business, such as a product or a services business, or even one that does both. You can then tailor for a new (start-up) business or an existing company. With this version there is additionally the option for a Non-Profit organisation.
Writing the Plan
Going into the plan itself, there are a series of questions about goals, missions, market and sales forecast, each having detailed explanations and examples with them that can be easily pasted and amended into your own plan if needed. A suburb touch is that all text is in a readable conversational style, without assuming that you are familiar with any of the concepts.
I liked the step-by-step walk through of defining your market and understanding the demographics that lead to your target customers. Sales and marketing are areas often glossed over in business plans and this clever section leads you through the detail needed to come up with a well-researched and credible business plan.
Throughout the planning process there are several "wizards" which take you through the stages of each major section, such as the Sales Forecast wizard. Determining the sales forecast for a new business can be difficult, this wizard at least gives you a good stab at understanding the need and use of such forecasts.
For every major section there is more explanation and normally a link to some other resource for additional background. You don’t have to do the background reading, but it is in an easy to follow format that doesn’t take long to go through.
Palo Alto's questions & answers method of setting up the financial tables is first-rate. For example you can chose between a simple financial format and a more detailed standard one. A series of easy to follow explanations are available to help you chose.
When finished, you can ask the software to check your work for you, which should catch most of the common mistakes. There are a number of export options for saving your plan in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, as a web page or PDF files, that are more easily emailed to collaborators or Investors.
As part of being a Business Plan Pro user, you get to store your plan on a secure web site for free. This is just perfect for sharing your plan with others, or having collaborators look at it, or even download a version of the plan from the site. It’s secure and can only be accessed if you allow it for a specific user who has to have a password. The latest version of this web site facility is cleaner and easier to use than before, a great feature.
As if all of this wasn't enough there is an advanced version available called Business Plan V11.0 - Premier Edition. Although more expensive at £129.99, it does have a number of extra facilities, such as a business valuation section – handy for those who want to establish the value of their business for investment and additional financial spreadsheets, charts and tables. It also allows you to keep your plan live, by adding in how you are doing against targets and tracking your progress.
Palo Alto are now pushing their Live Plan and the more expensive Premier version of Business Plan Pro, which is an excellent choice. But if you want the standard edition you now have to look carefully at the small print, under the Premier version to choose the less expensive Standard option.
- Easy setup and installation.
- Friendly, understandable explanations at each step of creating the plan.
- Sample plan browser to access over 500 business plan examples.
- Financial section based on UK requirements with excellent guidance.
- Advanced version (Premier Edition) available.
- Many of the sample plans are based on USA businesses.
- You'll need an internet connection for some of the additional support features.
Go to Business Plan Pro