[ Go to July 1997 Table of Contents ]|
-- by Joel T. Patz
Planning pays off, especially if you're starting a business or buying an ongoing concern. From securing financing to ensuring you'll see a profit, a business plan offers a much-needed road map for any venture. Both Business Plan Pro 2.0 and Plan Write for Business 4.0 help you organize your thoughts and structure a good-looking, thorough plan from scratch.
Business Plan Pro 2.0
Business Plan Pro's 16-step Setup Wizard asks detailed questions about your business. It may inquire, for example, whether you prefer summary or detailed expense projections. Once you've answered the wizard's questions, the program displays a checklist of main topics, like describing your business, defining your market or forecasting sales. Each topic comprises a set of specific tasks, such as entering text or financial data. If you choose a text-based task (completing your mission statement, for example), Business Plan Pro splits the screen in half, offering an explanation or sample text above and space for composing your text below. You can also jump to a full-screen text editor. Choose a table-based task to fill in projections or a chart-based task to view graphs.
You can navigate your plan using several tools. The checklist is handy for tracking your progress because it marks topics as not started, in progress or complete. You can add new text topics (but not new charts or tables) in Outline view or jump to a related table or chart from within a text-editing window. The outline lets you single-step through all major topics, then through subtopics.
Business Plan Pro's tables are well designed. If you right-click on a linked value, the program will display a small box explaining the source. Calculated values (total cells, for instance) are write-protected.
Plan Write 4.0
When beginning a new plan with Plan Write, we suggest you skip the Preliminary Analysis screen and proceed to answering basic questions about your business. Clicking on the wizard-like Next and Previous buttons helps you navigate through the process.
Once setup is complete, Plan Write displays a five-tab screen. Under the Text tab, you develop business objectives, product descriptions, customer profiles and so on. Like Business Plan Pro, Plan Write divides the screen in half. However, only Plan Write allows you to copy sample text from the top window to the editing workspace below. A full-screen text processor is also available. Click on the Next button to proceed logically through the topics, or choose the Review tab to see your plan in Outline mode.
The Financials tab has a wizard that prompts you for fundamental data (such as the receivables period). It then displays a split screen with explanations on top and a formatted grid below. If you right-click on a column or row heading, Plan Write explains what you should enter in the corresponding cells. The grid can accommodate details for the first year, quarterly estimates for the next and yearly estimates for three more years. Unfortunately, it's too easy to copy over or delete a formula, since such cells aren't protected.
The Charts tab offers basic break-even, cash-flow and profit-and-loss graphs. You can easily incorporate your own charts anywhere in your plan, and Plan Write offers helpful formatting options.
Plan Write's fifth tab, called Milestones, lets you enter a set of reminders.
Both products help you examine your business and plan for the future, providing step-by-step guidance for either sales- or service-oriented ventures. Both also offer good output quality and export options, with support for ASCII and Rich Text Format. Business Plan Pro's documentation is superior; it's full of excellent explanations, illustrations and examples. But Plan Write is more flexible. In addition to being able to modify the program's charts, you can insert your own topics, charts and tables. That makes it our program of choice for the WinList.