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Review of Palo Alto Software: Business Plan Pro 11.0 from SmallBusinessComputing.com
By Wayne Kawamoto
February 12, 2008

Got a budding business concept that’s ripe for financing and incubation? If so, you’ll need a business plan to form a guiding light pitch and to pitch to potential investors. And short of paying for consultants who will gladly to do the job at a significant price, there’s probably no better way to create a plan than to use Palo Alto Software’s Business Plan Pro.

Business Plan Pro (BPP), which is now available in a new version 11, doesn’t face much competition and pretty much holds a monopoly in its genre. But far from letting it ride on past success, Palo Alto Software continues to update the program, improving performance and adding value.

BPP comes in both Standard ($99.95) and Premium ($199.95) editions, and this latest iteration is well worth the admission price.

New in Version 11
While there was nothing wrong with BPP’s previous interfaces, the latest version has undergone fine-tuning. The program now allows you to quickly switch between financial tables and underlying spreadsheets. And a new progress-tracking feature makes it easier to see where you are in the overall planning process and how much further you have to go.

An improved outline tool provides an overview of your plan and summarizes topics, tables and charts, and it’s easier to customize the tool to your liking. A new chart-editing tool lets you create impressive 3D color charts that may be incorporated into plans and printed out. The new plan setup asks questions to get you started, and if you’re in a hurry, the new “Keep it Simple” outline option allows you to create a plan in mere hours.

There are more options for printing with newfound controls over color palettes, headers and footers and more. Support for Spanish now allows you to convert a plan outline into Spanish and back again.

To distribute plans to those who need to see them, you can rely on the new SecurePlan.com feature that lets you publish a plan to the Internet where it may be viewed by investors, partners, colleagues, family and more. Of course, the feature lets you control who views your plans. One last thing, the program has been optimized to work in Windows Vista.

Unveiled in Premier
The higher-end Premier comes with a new management dashboard that displays an overview of your business plan and allows you to compare real world results against your plan. Premier accepts data for sales, expenses, cost of sales and milestones and highlights variances between your current results and plan, as well as checks that your spending is in line with projected budgets.

Premier’s “What if” features allows you to enter different scenarios and view their impact on cash flow. Some of the options include: net-60 versus net-30 for customers, working with inventory and more. For the first time, Premier offers the means to update a business plan for a new fiscal year without losing your original data. The archive and roll-forward feature copies your current plan, archives it for safekeeping and then prepares it for the following year.

A new “save as template” feature lets you customize and distribute business plan templates to other people, which can be useful for franchisers and consultants and other businesses with seperate divisions and departments.

Following the Plan
BPP also maintains its past strengths. The EasyPlan Wizard asks questions and, based on your answers, determines the necessary steps to create a plan. As before, the program does a great job of walking you through the entire planning process and lets you access and view 500 sample business plans that may be used as models. You can import graphics, logos, photos, fonts and layouts and export plans to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe PDF.

You can use the program to forecast sales, expenses and growth. A break-even analysis tool estimates when your business should break even and when you can expect to begin making money. The Premier version allows you to evaluate investment valuations by calculating internal rate of return (IRR) and net present value (NPV). To obtain a running start, BPP works with QuickBooks to import accounting data and populate its tables.

The program organizes and compiles data and produces business plans in formats commonly used by banks, investors and the Small Business Administration (SBA). There’s a helpful venture capital database that provides possible contacts as well as a financing guide for tapping friends and family and a list of SBA resources.

BPP also comes with two books on business planning that provide insight: “The Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki and “Hurdle: The Book on Business Planning” by Tim Berry.

Planning to Succeed
If you’re knowledgeable about business and spreadsheets, you could probably build a set of tables to produce a business plan. But you’d still have to figure out what goes into a business plan, put it all together and format it – a considerable puzzle with a fairly high entry barrier. And furthermore, is this really the best use of your time at this juncture of your business?

Overall, Business Plan Pro provides the background, insight and tools that you’ll need to create a business plan. And it can be a big time saver that lets you focus on that new business.

Wayne Kawamoto has written more than 800 articles, columns and reviews about computers, new technologies, the Internet and small businesses. Wayne has also published three books about upgrading PCs, building office networks and troubleshooting notebook computers. You can contact him through his Web site at www.waynewrite.com.