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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Business Plan Software

Is a business plan really necessary? If you want your business to have the best shot at succeeding, a well-crafted business plan is the way to go. Having the right business-plan software can help you get there. Business-plan software takes the legwork out of writing a business plan by simplifying the process and eliminating the need to start from scratch.

Business plans serve many purposes. Before starting a business, a simple business plan enables would-be entrepreneurs to flesh out their ideas and lay out their vision. When it comes to seeking funding or planning for expansion, a comprehensive business plan is almost always a must. And when it comes to problems down the road, business plans help business owners foresee issues, make adjustments and plan their attack.

“A business that operates without a business plan is a business that is on the road to financial failure,” said Joe Geiger, president and CEO of First Nonprofit Foundation and an adjunct professor at Duquesne University’s Graduate Program for Leadership and Ethics.

Of the several million startups that launch each year, the vast majority fail within the first few years, he said. “The primary reason for all of these failures is that they run out of money,” Geiger said. “The fundamental reason for their financial problems is lack of planning.”

Some of these failures could have been prevented by having a business plan. Yearly business plans with cash-flow forecasts enable businesses to discover their impending cash shortages months, if not years, before they run short of money, Geiger said.

To create a well-crafted business plan, your chosen business-plan software should cover the two critical parts of a business plan. The first part outlines the business’s goals in the coming years and how they will be accomplished, Geiger said. “Who is going to accomplish the goals? What are the milestones on the path to accomplishing the goals? And what people, tools and funds will be needed?” he said.

The second part is a cash-flow forecast, which typically covers a three-year span — the first year includes monthly forecasts, and the second and third years have quarterly forecasts, Geiger explained.

However, most entrepreneurs don’t have an accounting background to help them make proper forecasts, he said. Business planning tools should fill that gap. Geiger’s own cash-flow forecast template forces entrepreneurs to carefully forecast all revenue and cost items; tells them how much money is needed and when it is needed; and warns them of financial problems before they occur. Similarly, the business-plan software you choose should delve deep into financial details, he said.

“The more specific a cash-flow forecast is, the better it is,” Geiger said. For instance, “listing a general overhead expense item is meaningless, while using rent, electric, etc. results in a meaningful forecast,” he added.

To help you choose the best solution for your business, our sister site Top Ten Reviews does extensive in-depth reviews of business-plan software. Here are the top three recommendations:

1 Business Plan Pro

Business Plan Pro leads Top Ten Reviews’ rankings for business plan software, as it provides everything beginners need to develop a professional business plan, and also has several options for advanced users. The Standard Edition of the software has many features, including more than 500 sample business plans, industry profiles and planning e-books. The Premier Edition adds the ability to import data from QuickBooks or Excel, visual cash-planning capability, valuation-analysis tools and additional financial tools.

Research and Forecasting Tools: Business Plan Pro provides more than 500 sample business plans covering several diverse business concepts. Additional resources are available to determine the best way to forecast numbers for marketing, cost per unit and other industry expenses. The “drag and drop” graphic forecaster lets users quickly and easily create graphs and charts.

Help & Support: Business Plan Pro provides beginners and professionals with a business-plan wizard, step-by-step guidance and informational videos.

2 Biz Plan Builder

Biz Plan Builder ranks highly for its multiuser capabilities, including the ability to share securely stored files over the Internet. The software includes everything needed for a customizable, professional business plan. It also helps users create an understanding of their business to help sell themselves to investors and bankers. It includes future strategy development to review the prospects of an acquisition through valuation analysis, adding value for a potential merger and cultivating ideas and advice on restructuring or reorganization.

Research and Forecasting Tools: Forecasting tools include a comprehensive budget/feasibility analysis using a “best/worst” case analysis. Models and financial analysis are also available to help users make the best assumptions, projections and financial determinations.

Help & Support: Supporting documents include business forms such as articles of incorporation, résumé templates, team responsibilities and general partnership agreements, as well as personal financial statements, press releases, private offering disclaimers and stock-option tracking worksheets. Business-plan updates, business-plan FAQs, an online business-plan workshop and an expert referral network are also part of the program. Built-in advice and support include interactive guides, built-in sample plans and expert explanations.

3 BizPlan.com

BizPlan.com earned Top Ten Reviews’ Bronze Award for offering a contemporary online interface that is simple to use, while also providing enough flexibility for the advanced user. The software allows other collaborators to access, edit and share information easily. BizPlan.com has recognized the significant advantage of providing applications that allow for online collaboration and integration with other services and products.

Research and Forecasting Tools: BizPlan.com provides spreadsheet forecasting templates that can be customized and then imported with the final business plan. A full marketplace will soon be launched, which will include access to business resources, as well as the abilities to add features to the business plan and send a completed plan to professionals for printing and binding. Sample plans are also included in the professional package.

Business Plan Templates for Entrepreneurs

Writing a business plan is an important step in the startup process. It helps you and your partners decide if you will work well together, teaches you about the marketplace, and lets you brainstorm business and product goals. But because of all the effort and detail involved, many entrepreneurs dread the thought of sitting down and creating this critical but time-consuming document.

While business plans can be frustrating if you’re writing one from scratch, there are plenty of online templates available to take some of the pain out of the process. Small business owners can benefit from simple, easy-to-follow business-plan tools so they can spend less time writing and more time launching.

Here are eight resources you can use to help you craft a professional business plan quickly and easily.

You’ve heard about those entrepreneurs who started off by jotting down their ideas on a napkin at a bar, café or restaurant. $100 Startup’s One-Page Business Plan is a little like that, but more organized. Designed for entrepreneurs who are itching to get started, this simple business-plan template asks a handful of questions that you can easily answer in one or two sentences. It covers everything from what you sell and who will buy it to how you will get paid, “hustle” to find customers, foresee challenges and overcome the obstacles — all in a single page.

Not all small businesses are concerned with credit lines, partnerships and office space — at least not in the beginning. So why should their initial business plans include these things? Copyblogger’s Remarkably Simple Business Plan doesn’t. Instead, it offers a business-plan template fit for the real would-be entrepreneur’s world. Whereas most business-plan templates assume all businesses are uniform, Copyblogger’s Remarkably Simple Business Plan was created to get to what entrepreneurs really need to know to start a business: the ins and outs of the product or service, how customers will find the business and how the business will make money. Simply copy and paste the template of the Remarkably Simple Business Plan, created by Sonia Simone, co-founder and chief content officer of Copyblogger Media, and you’re good to go.

Founded in 2011, Enloop is regarded as an innovative player in the business-plan-creation industry. Like many others, the service uses an online interface to help automate your business plan’s creation. To get started, users enter basic information about their businesses, including product details. Then, Enloop’s software uses metrics to help predict the financial performance of the company in comparison with others in the sector. According to CEO Cynthia McCahon, the goal of the company is to help entrepreneurs make better-informed decisions. Users can get started on Enloop for free; more advanced paid options are also available.

LivePlan is a relatively new entrant to the online business-tools market that helps you every step of the way, from the planning stages through your launch. Like other services, LivePlan allows business owners to craft perfectly formatted plans. From there, users can create the presentation necessary to pitch their business ideas to would-be investors. Once off the ground, businesses can track revenue and expenses against forecasts, and multiple users within a company can work through the LivePlan interface. Pricing starts at less than $12 a month.

Created by The One Page Business Plan Company, this simple business template covers only the key areas entrepreneurs need to address to start a business: their vision for the company, mission for why the business exists, objectives for setting out goals, strategies to make the business successful and action plans indicating what work needs to be done. Unlike complicated business plans, boring blocks of text are not required — bullet points will do.

Are you the visual type? Look no further than Angela Bowman’s One-Page Visual Business Plan. Based on the principles of the Business Generation Model Strategyzer app, Bowman’s One-Page Visual Business Plan uses sticky notes to help you creatively craft an out-of-the-box business plan. To create a One-Page Visual Business Plan, start by separating a single page into different sections or columns, such as company information and customer segments. Write down your ideas or responses on a sticky note, and then stick it on the corresponding section. You can also color-code the sticky notes for better organization. Then, if your plans change, you can easily remove a note, move it around or add new ones to better fit the direction in which your business is headed.

The fact that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has an online tool to help users craft business plans will come as no surprise to anyone who has investigated the SBA’s offerings before. The agency has a wealth of free planning, financing and consulting tools and resources, both online and through available consultants. The SBA’s online tool for business-plan creation allows a user to enter information on a Web interface that is tied to that user’s account. The administration says this is intended to be a “live” plan that can be referred to and changed as the company’s plans progress. The SBA encourages entrepreneurs to use their generated plans to discuss their company’s prospects with SBA advisers like those available through SCORE and the Small Business Development Center. The SBA’s tool is available online at no cost.

Greg Go, co-founder of online finance community Wise Bread, is a big believer that entrepreneurs who are just starting out don’t need lengthy business plans. What they actually need, he said, is an “internal working plan” to get started. The internal working plan consists of four simple questions that make up the simple business plan: What is your product or service? Who are your customers? When will things get done? When are bills due, and when do you get paid? To guide entrepreneurs in completing their four-question business plan, Go provides a simplified way of answering each question in his blog post on the subject.

Fast Fixes to Jump-Start Your Business Plan

Writing a business plan can be tricky and time-consuming, but it’s a crucial step if you’re starting a new business. Not only is a business plan helpful if you’re looking for investors, but it can also be a great structural resource to help guide you and remind you of your business goals. So how do you create an efficient business plan that meets your needs? Here are five expert tips.

Before you start writing your business plan, you need to make sure your business idea or product is actually desirable to your intended customer base.

“Many entrepreneurs come up with a great idea without stopping to think if they are solving an actual problem for a group of people,” said Jenny Leonard, CEO of digital agency Never North Labs. “You don’t want to spend months or even a year working on developing a business or product idea only to find out nobody cares or even wants it.”

Leonard said you should spend some time researching your customer base by actually speaking to people your product or business idea would target.

“You’ll quickly find out just by talking to a few dozen people if your business idea or product is a hit or a miss,” Leonard said. “It may be a little extra work early on, but it will save you potentially hundreds of hours in the future by doing this work first.After doing this bit of research, you’ll have the clarity you need to write your business plan.”

So what’s the first step in actually writing your business plan? Startup consultant Kristi Klemm said the first thing you should do is ask yourself, “Who am I making this plan for?” There are usually two answers to this question, Klemm said: You’re writing it to fit your own needs, or you’re writing it for investors or partners.

“It’s important to recognize when someone wants a business plan for their own needs,” Klemm said. “This indicates the person usually desires structure, and getting their motivations for starting a business on paper — or [on a] screen — is an important step for them in order to begin working [and] to acknowledge the business is really happening.”

This type of plan tends to be less reliant on outside data, functioning mostly to set into motion the actions needed to get the business off paper, and operating, Klemm said.

“It’s more of an expansive-yet-broad to-do list for the next 12-24 months,” Klemm said.

If you’re making your business plan for investors or partners, it should be very analytical, and include a lot of competitive and market research, with money-asks clearly defined and term sheets as detailed as possible, Klemm said.

“You’re already convinced the business is going to work. Now you need someone else to believe in you,” Klemm said.

A great way to simplify your business plan, both for yourself and your investors, is to make it more visual. Zack Pennington, chief operating officer at online music instruction resource Collabra Music, said you shouldn’t be afraid to use charts in place of long text paragraphs.

“Sometimes, people get too hung up on trying to explain their business model or cost assumptions in words, when a simple table, pie chart or flow chart can do wonders,” Pennington said. “Investors spend countless hours reading business plans, and if you use a chart that makes it simple and easy for them to understand what you do, you’re significantly more likely to hear from them.”

Pennington also noted a change in the way many business plans are being created.

“It’s OK for your business plan to look more and more like a slide deck, since that’s where most business plans are heading,” Pennington said.

When you’re creating your business plan, you also have to think about the time it will take you to reach your goals. Lora Ivanova, co-founder and chief marketing officer of at-home STD testing company myLAB Box, said that it’s key to ask yourself about your time line or personal runway.

For example, “How long can you and the people on your team — co-founders and anyone investing sweat equity — commit yourselves [to] full-time [work] or any meaningful capacity [dedicated] to your business?” Ivanova said.

Once you have that time frame, Ivanova said that the second most important question is, “Is that enough time, conservatively, to get your business to a place where it can sustain your ongoing commitment?” Or, in other words, “At what point in time can your business provide enough income for you to keep working on it?”

From there, you can figure out what goals you need to achieve and how to achieve them.

“Depending on any gap between your runway and revenue, your business plan’s primary goal will be to bridge that gap with tangible solutions,” Ivanova said.

She also suggested creating a business plan for your best- and worst-case scenarios.

“Looking at them side by side is a great reality check,” Ivanova said. “At the end of the day, any business plan is irrelevant if you, the founder [that the business’s] success hangs on, cannot sustain your livelihood to keep building.”

Business plans are important, but it’s also important to remember that not everything will go according to plan. That’s why you need to keep your business plan flexible, said Cindy Jones, CEO and formulator at skin-care company Colorado Aromatics Cultivated Skin.

“Many people get too hung up on a business plan, and it slows them down,” Jones said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Flexibility is important.”

Jones noted that her own business plan has changed a lot since she started her company.

“My original business plan evolved so much that it is not recognizable,” Jones said. “This is because areas of my business that were minor parts of my business plan, because I never expected them to grow much, actually took off more than expected. This meant my focus had to change somewhat and resources needed to go to that area.”

Things to Do Before Opening a Salon

For many beauty-industry professionals, owning a salon is a dream come true. If you’ve got the styling skills and the capital needed to start your business, you’re already halfway there. However, just like with any other industry, opening your own business can be challenging, and it comes with a lot of tasks and responsibilities to complete.

Thinking about putting your beauty skills to the test and opening your own salon? Make sure you follow these 10 expert tips first.

“A business plan is key to starting a salon. The plan offers a road map for salon owners to follow and helps entrepreneurs consider all areas of the business. A business plan makes sure you set up a metric for success and consider the financials before you invest huge amounts of time and money in a new salon.” – Ali Ryan, owner, The Dry House

“With salons on every corner, even in small towns, entering into the market with a specialty or service niche can dramatically increase buzz and press about your opening. Most salons try to please everyone, offering a huge menu of services. But this does nothing to differentiate you in the market. Even if you do offer many services, promoting a niche or specialty service will help you attract not only a very loyal client base, but will [also] instantly lend credibility to your salon as the experts in your niche space.” – Pamela Jeschonek, owner, Everyday Esthetics Eyebrow Studio

“Do your research. Ensure that you are complying with the state laws and regulations. If you have to make some adjustments to your plan because of regulations and laws, do so early so that you can avoid potentially having to stop your operation later or [having to pay] a fine. This will save you time and money.” – Shanell Jett, owner and stylist, JettSet Mobile Studio

“Get in touch with major product distributors like Redken, Paul Mitchell, etc. Some of them offer support services such as training [and] consultants to salon owners and staff. ” – Tom Justin, author and business consultant

“My number-one tip for aspiring entrepreneurs before they open up a salon is to have a number of professional clients of your own that will cover your overhead. Salon employees have an independent mind-set and will try to make power plays. With a solid client base of your own, you’ll be in a better position to call the shots.” – Sandra LaMorgese, speaker and entrepreneur

“Secure a solid location with plenty of parking. If you make it convenient for clients to visit your salon, you’ll have more customers, which in turn means more revenue to pay off your initial loan and to put toward growth expenses.” – Jim Salmon, president of business services, Navy Federal Credit Union

“I would advise any new salons to invest time in the training and motivation of the staff. Now, any technician is going to know their trade. However, they might need help with the selling and customer-retention side. Your salon will be built around your stylists and technicians, [so] ensuring they are comfortable with up-selling products and other treatments across the brand is the difference between success and failure. Spending time before launch training your key staff to learn these key skills and learn how to teach them to new employees will pay dividends once the salon is running, and will go a long way to help with the smooth operation of a successful business.” – Jennifer Quinn, client relations and Web content executive, Phorest

“Create a vision for how you want clients to feel, what you want them to experience and what adjectives clients will use when describing their experience. This will help in developing a look, feel and atmosphere.” – Samira Far, founder, Bellacures

“Work with a designer or space planner to ensure you are maximizing your revenue potential for the space. Keep in mind any plumbing needs, and take advantage of space in the center of the salon with double-sided stations or other uses. Know the dimensions you have for each area, so you can shop for salon equipment to fit the space or have it custom-ordered. If construction work is needed, try to negotiate those costs in your lease agreement.” – Miriam Deckert, marketing director, SalonSmart

“Don’t go and see what others are charging in your area, because you don’t know anything about them or their skill set. I charged $60 a haircut when I first opened in a town where the most expensive haircut was $38. I had 25 years of training and education to get here. Some people thought I was crazy and wouldn’t get it — not only did I get it, [but] I have since raised [prices] to $70 and keep billing. If you are great at what you do, people will pay for it.”– Sheryl Miller, owner, Fringe Hair Art