Q: Any suggestions for an easy-to-use, yet comprehensive program for developing a business plan?
-- L.D., Los Angeles
A: Writing a business plan doesn't have to be difficult. Free business-plan outlines are offered by office.com,
bulletproofbizplans.com, and the U.S. Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov). Counselors are on hand at the SBA's small-business
development centers or the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). Books such as How to Really Create a Successful Business
Plan, by David E. Gumpert (Inc. Publishing, $29.95), and Instant Business Plan, by Gustav Berle and Paul Kirschner (Puma
Publishing Co., $15.95), feature case studies and other tips. Additional book titles are listed at: www.e-businessplan.com/books.html.
Business-plan software provides interactive templates and automated financial calculations. But be careful: Such programs can result in a
canned document that may not reflect your business nor impress potential investors. So start with software, and then personalize it to make
the plan your own. Popular software titles include Business Plan Pro($89.85 at www.businessplanpro.com) and Automate Your Business
Plan ($80 at www.business-plan.com).
If you're looking for investors, consider hiring a professional business-planning consultant -- someone who specializes in startups. To
find one, get local referrals, do an Internet search, or contact an agency like National Consultant Referrals at referrals.com. "Home-grown
or boilerplate plans won't fly with VC firms," says Barbara Lewis, president of Westwood (Calif.)-based Centurion Consulting, which charges
from $5,000 to $30,000 to consult with you and
write your business plan. But you needn't spend that much. E-businessplan.com, for example, advertises custom business plans for as low as
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