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Plan Writer Prompts a Clear Focus

Software helps build business and marketing plans as well as projections and charts that can enhance your presentation.

November 15, 2000|LAWRENCE J. MAGID | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Running a business without a plan is a little like setting out on a trip without a map--you might get lost along the way. It's good to have when you're getting your company off the ground. It can help you raise money and attract employees or partners. And it can help an established firm chart new directions.

PlanWrite Business Plan Writer Deluxe (Windows, $99) is the latest software product designed to create business or marketing plans. Released last month by Nova Development (http://www.novadevelopment.com), the software helps you build a plan that can easily be posted on the Internet. Featuring 125 sample business plans, the program is extensive and relatively easy to use. I say relatively because, like the best-selling Business Plan Pro that I previously reviewed, it still takes a considerable amount of time and thought to develop a business plan.

For example, to complete a preliminary analysis of your business you must first provide detailed information, such as the variable cost per unit to deliver your product or service, how many units you expect to deliver, your operating expenses, your projected tax rate, one-time start-up costs. (The term "unit" may not apply to service businesses, but service businesses often do have variable costs that can be calculated with this area of the program.)

Once you have finished your preliminary analysis, you begin writing the plan itself. PlanWrite prompts you section by section so you don't have to come up with your own outline. It also provides sample text that shows how someone might complete each section.

For example, in the section where you are asked to write the history of the enterprise, the program asks you to include the founder's name, years in business, market share, distribution channel relationships and other details. There is nothing here that you can't find in a book or even a free Internet-based guide to business plan writing, but the program helps you get and stay organized.

Other text-based areas of the program take you through the process of describing your products and services, your market, competition, need for your offering and all of the other details you might otherwise forget to include.

The heart of the program is its financial tools, a series of spreadsheet-like data entry areas in which you enter revenue projections, cash flow details and information about fixed assets. With that information, the program will generate projections and charts that can enhance your presentation.

When you're finished with the business plan, you can print it out or save it as a series of Web pages, which you can send to someone or post on the Internet, a company LAN (local area network) or a secure password area of a Web site accessible only to selected people. The Web pages it creates are interactive and easy to navigate.

In addition to business plans, the program helps you generate marketing plans and comes with an extra CD containing a copy of Kiplinger's Small Business Attorney--a useful compendium of legal documents for small businesses.

Besides PlanWrite and other software programs, free resources are available to help you create a business plan. Here are three:

* American Express' Web site walks you through the process of writing your own plan. Click on the Small Business tab at http://www.americanexpress.com to find a section called "Create an effective Business Plan."

* The Small Business Administration Web site at http://www.sba.govstarting/indexbusplans.html offers a short but useful free business plan tutorial.

* Sample business plans can be found at http://www.bplans.com, a free service of Palo Alto Software.

Remember that the computer adage "garbage in, garbage out" applies to business plan software. If your business ideas don't make sense, the best software in the world won't make your ideas fly. You still have to have products or services that people want, and your business has to have the potential to make money.

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Lawrence J. Magid can be heard at 2:10 p.m. weekdays on the KNX (1070) Technology Hour. He can be reached at larry.magid@latimes.com. His Web site is at http://www.larrysworld.com.

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