Palo Alto’s Business Plan Pro is on its 11th version and is the leading software for business planning. Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software gives her perspective on business planning software, how Business Plan Pro has changed over the years and more.
What are the benefits of business planning software versus not using one Business Planning software provides the structure for a plan?
It allows an entrepreneur to focus on the market research and the financials rather then the format and the spreadsheets. Why re-invent the wheel? Why spend hours putting together an excel worksheet with spreadsheets that must be links together and formulas that need to be error checked when you can use something like Business Plan Pro (BPP) that has proven error checked worksheets ready to go?
Business Plan Pro is now in its 11th version – how has it changed over the years?
Every year we make changes to improve the product based on new technologies, and feedback from our user base. We need to make sure that we keep up with Microsoft and their operating system releases, as well as continue to provide a best of breed product with all the bells and whistles our customers ask for. This year we focused on re-building the product on a dot NET platform in order to keep it leading edge from a technology point of view. The Dot NET platform allowed us to also improve the UI, and add some cool features to our online publishing feature, SecurePlan.
We also added:
1. A great dashboard view in our Premier version. the dashboard keep key metrics on hand that allow someone to manage their plan month to month and year to year and compare their actual results against their planned results
This has made Business Plan Pro Premier into a great monthly management tool for the growing business.
2. We added the ability to roll a plan from one year to the next to allow a business to keep managing their plan not only month to month, but year to year.
3.We added a cleaner, better UI to help make sure that our users are aware of all the features and resources in Business Plan Pro.
4. We improved the progress tracking so that a user can better see where they are in the process, and how much more they need to do to finish their plan.
5. We added the ability to change our outline to Spanish, and use a Spanish spreadsheet in order to create a plan entirely in Spanish.
These are the features I have highlighted – but I can go on and on with small details that have made this year a better product. We live and breathe planning, so our list of changes and improvements always outnumbers what we can actually do every year.
What are some of the biggest things many small businesses do not include or miss in their business plans that BPP helps them with?
CASH FLOW. People do not understand how much cash flow rules their business.
People always think in terms of profits — but never really understand the implications of cash flow until they are faced head on with the problem.
I was speaking with Tim Berry (founder of Palo Alto Software) about a year or two ago about how a business plan is not a one time event but part of an ongoing plan for one’s business. After making the initial business plan how does BPP help with ongoing business growth?
I mentioned a few of the plan as you go features above. A business should ALWAYS have a plan, and then review it month to month against actual results. This is how a business owner can really see how they are doing and whether they need to change courses. BPP offers plan vs. actual tracking as well as a great new dashboard feature (mentioned above) in our Premier version.
BPP is a tool, a software product and only knows as much as what information is input into it. How does BPP help the small business owner input the right information and/or make the right decisions in business planning?
BPP guides the business owner to understanding the vital information and how to go about finding it. it makes sure that you don’t leave anything out, and that you understand all the vital pieces it takes to run your business. It helps someone understand whether they need to take out a bigger loan, or get a credit line prepared for cash flow reasons. It helps the see whether they are pricing their products and services correctly. Are they losing money based on their pricing? Or are their margins how high above the industry average so as to tell them their pricing is too high (we provide industry business ratios in the product for people to compare their own numbers to).
We feel that after doing a complete plan a business owner will have so much more knowledge about their business, and me intimately familiar with their business financials.