If you are thinking about starting up a small business, one of the first tasks is to construct a working business plan. To help in this process, there are lots of business planning software programs for you to download and trial….

Turning Your Business Ideas Into Numbers

Business software planning tools, enable you to create a credible and professional business plan. The choice of software solutions, range from sample template business plans, to low-budget Excel spreadsheets, to comprehensive business planning software packages.

Creating a business plan for the first time is a daunting task. Most budding entrepreneurs scratch their heads and go to the Internet for inspiration to see examples of what a business plan looks like. Remember that your business plan should not be a sterile paper document, (to be bound, shelved and forgotten). You plan should be a living document. Something for you to consult too long into the future. It should form a basis for a working action plan. This is where business plan software comes into its own. It provides you with the ability to edit, re-save, share and recalculate lots of changing budgetary information.

The main advantage of using a software package to design your planning ideas, is that you are automatically prompted to follow a rigorous process. This gives structure when devising a written strategy and integrated marketing plan. The screens will consist of a series of checklist reminders and forms to complete. Most vendors use traditional management techniques, to prompt you to ‘fill in the blanks’. So you don’t need to be a ‘management guru’ to think strategically and follow a rational and logical workflow.

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Most of these software packages offer a variety of tutorial help videos and guidance notes. The good ones also provide practical template examples, of how other businesses have written their business plan. Many vendors offer customised versions. These have been tailored towards popular market sectors (such as cafes or pubs).

Most entrepreneurs intuitively know what they want to achieve when they reach the emotional decision to start-up a business. However, a business planning tool provides a worthwhile sanity check, by prompting you to think outside of your comfort zone. By answering questions regarding all aspects of your business ideas, you can no longer assume that your own intuition is correct. Instead of guesswork, you need to think objectively and submit hard profit and cash flow facts and figures. These should justify your initial assumptions and check whether your gut feel is correct.

Help with Financial Forecasting As a large portion of your business plan will consist of financial assumptions, business planning software can significantly assist in advanced calculations. You will need to build a working cash flow forecast, profit and loss account and balance sheet. Many of the current packages on the market, will export these sorts of models into an Excel spreadsheet (which most business people are familiar with). This handy functionality will allow you to explore some ‘what if’ scenarios, based on changes in your working assumptions. For instance, you will need to calculate your breakeven point, in order to determine how realistic your prediction of sales versus overheads actually is. Therefore, using financial modelling you can work out how your product pricing strategy could affect your firms overall profitability. So there is no real reason to create your own custom Excel spreadsheets. Most packages provide enough financial forecast models, to enable you to customise them to suit your individual needs. When comparing business planning software remember to check what external 3rd party services the software can connect too (such as industry research links or local sources of business finance). If the vendors designers are based in your country of origin, the product is more likely to be orientated and sympathetic towards local needs. This can become tremendously valuable when dealing with compliance matters related to company taxation, accounting, legal documents and local market knowledge. Lastly, as you will probably need some kind of start-up capital to form your company, you will need to convince a lender you are trustworthy and credible. As part of the loan application process, most high street banks insist you present a professional business plan. Most banks will give you with a new business start-up pack. This is likely to include their own proprietary business software tool, so you can ‘fill in the blanks’. This provides them with the financial information they need, to make a decision about your suitability as an applicant. They are checking you have thought through all the implications of starting up on your own. You will almost certainly need to create a three-year forecast of your cash flow and profitability. This will need to be supported by explanations of your working assumptions, and include your best and worst case scenarios. Good luck with business startup venture!

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