SCORE

Today’s powerful software products enable you to easily build a website, manage your finances, and even prepare and file your taxes. Not surprisingly, business plan software can help you craft the key planning document for your new small business, from writing the various section texts to making pro forma financial projections.

However, is that software alone enough to get a successful small business started?

Veteran SCORE Counselor Lou Davenport says there’s more to preparing a business plan than simply filling in the blanks. The business plan is not only important for preparing the business, but running the business as well.

“The value of the work is not the document, but the process,” Davenport explains. “In developing a solid business plan that defines the critical success factors and goals you’re shooting for, you may answer 75 questions, 50 of which you had no idea about when you started.”

Because no two small businesses are alike, there are any number of issue-specific considerations that require careful thought and research. For example, why do people in your target market need the product or service you’re offering, and why would they want to buy it from you? What are your competitors currently doing right that you can improve upon? Are there trends affecting your customers that may affect their needs and buying patterns? The list goes on and on.

“Business plan software can put you in position to answer questions like these,” Davenport says, “but it doesn’t always help you perform the kinds of analysis and thought exercises that are part of the day-to-day responsibilities of running a business.”

That’s why Davenport recommends getting a thorough review of a business plan from someone like a SCORE counselor is a must.

“Getting a third party to serve as sounding board will provide valuable unbiased feedback on how to improve things,” he says. “That person can also look at the business plan from the perspective of a bank or other investor, and raise questions you may have overlooked.”

While business plan software may appear to have everything in a single package, the Internet offers a wide range of equally helpful tools and templates, much of it for no charge.

For example, the SBA’s online Business Plan Tool provides a step-by-step guide for getting started on developing a sound, informed plan. All information entered into this tool is 100% secure, and can be viewed only by accessing a personal sba.gov account. The plan can also be updated at any time, making it a “living document” for frequent reference.

SCORE also offers a full range of free business planning tools and templates, including an Excel program for developing pro forma financial projections three years in advance. Separate templates are available for both new and existing businesses, as their needs are different. Finally, many sites offer fully developed business plans that can be viewed at no charge. However, be sure to use them only for reference and not a source of ready-made content for your own business plan.