The first step on the road to creating a successful startup is developing a solid business plan. This document should map out your plan for growth over the next three to five years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Your business plan is important for getting investors on board so you don’t need to fund your dream entirely on credit cards or loans from family and friends. (Your credit score helps determine how much you’ll be able to borrow. Check two of your scores with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.)
Documenting every aspect of your company is a daunting prospect, but there are business plan apps and software programs out there that can make the process a bit easier. Here are few to consider.
1. The Small Business Administration’s Business Plan Tool
Creating a clear business plan that identifies what makes your company special is one of the most important steps for a startup company, according to the SBA. There’s a lot of ground to cover and knowing where to start is often a challenge.
Using a generic plan template helps focus your thinking by making it easier to define the important aspects of your business, including management structure, product lines, sales strategies and financial projections. SCORE, a nonprofit association established to help small businesses get started, offers free templates.
The SBA goes further, offering its free online Business Plan Tool. You start by creating an account, then the tool provides step-by-step guidance for the creation of your plan. All content is secure, and you have the option to update your plan whenever necessary, which is important as your company grows and adapts. You can save your plan as a PDF file for easy distribution.
2. Business Plan Premier
Business Plan Premier is an app for iPad by AppIt Ventures LLC. It provides features for organizing your ideas into a logically formatted business plan. The interface breaks the plan into sections you can access from a list of tabs on the side of the screen. Selecting a tab brings up a series of questions, edit boxes and instructions for creating a detailed, coherent plan. Every edit box also has an “example” button, which displays a comprehensive example of what the content for that section should include.
When you’re finished, you have the option to export your plan as a formatted PDF or Word document to email to investors and partners. You can also upload your plan to Dropbox.
Cost: $19.95 per month; $11.66 per month if you elect to pay annually
One of the main hurdles when writing a business plan is providing all the necessary information in a structured format that investors and potential business partners can access immediately. Various apps and software applications make it easier to organize your thoughts, but don’t necessarily focus on the most important aspects of your business, making it more difficult to define what makes you stand out.
LivePlan by Palo Alto Software Inc. is a web-based subscription service with a rolling monthly charge. The service maintains the “fill-in-the-blanks” simplicity of many other programs but also provides access to more than 500 business plan templates and examples for creating a plan that accurately defines your business structure and goals.
After setting up a new business, you have the option of using LivePlan Pitch to create a one-page summary of your strategy before making your plan by working through a series of steps with the option to customize sections. LivePlan handles financial projections, generating charts based on your data without the need for spreadsheets and formulas. The tool’s Benchmarks system lets you use real data from competitors to see how your plan stacks up. Once your business is up and running, the LifePlan Scoreboard tracks your accounting information.
It’s important to read the terms and conditions of any app or software platform you’re considering to be sure you understand the costs and if it’s right for you. You can also vet services by reading online reviews or checking out a particular company on the Better Business Bureau website.