Over the past 20+ years, Growthink has helped over 500,000 entrepreneurs, executives and business owners develop business plans, start their businesses, and exit successfully with a focus on business planning and capital raising. In doing so, we’ve tried all the best business plan software programs out there, and have also built two business planning software options of our own.
This article provides a brief overview of business planning, defines what business plan software is, covers other key questions related to business plan writing software, and reviews 5 business plan software options. Working on a budget? Take a look at the best free business plan software options to help you write a business plan.
- Business Planning Overview
- What is Business Plan Software?
- What Does Business Plan Software Do?
- Do I Need Business Plan Software?
- Key Features of Business Plan Software
- Why You May NOT Want To Use a Planning Program
- Paid vs. Free Business Plan Software
- Benefits of Using Business Plan Software
- 5 Best Business Plan Software Programs in 2021
Business Plans & Planning
Starting and growing a business is exciting, but can also get daunting very fast. Even getting a small business off the ground involves making significant decisions every day around operations, marketing, human resources and financial data. The success of your business directly hinges on how and when you make these decisions. Also, none of these business decisions can be made in a vacuum, they require market research, competitor analysis and industry analysis.
As a passionate entrepreneur you might think that since you have a great idea you will figure out the rest with time and everything will fall into place. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. In fact, successful businesses the world over are almost always a combination of solid ideas backed by solid planning and wise use of business plan tools.
The right plan will not only provide you with a roadmap to grow your business, but it is a required business planning tool if you hope to raise capital to start or grow your business.
What is Business Plan Software?
Business plan software helps individuals and businesses develop and polish their business plans. It provides a robust framework or template which allows you to explore your idea and present your vision in concrete ways. Software-driven business plan templates and tools are powerful assets for a large or small business.
A comprehensive plan not only gives your companies history and provides market intelligence, but it also lays out the roadmap for the future. Your business plan will help you predict future roadblocks and how the market and your company might look down the road. This allows you to be proactive in helping you survive and thrive.
The right software also helps you create a well-thought out and well-researched business plan which can prove instrumental in attracting investors. With investors comes funding and the chance to see your business start or scale up. Every investor first thinks of their return on investment before funding any enterprise. By going through a business’s detailed plan, investors are able to gauge the viability and profitability of that business, and hence the probability of them earning a solid return. If your plan is vague and incomplete, then you will have an exceptionally hard time finding investors willing to fund you. Likewise, banks will refuse you a loan if they do not find your business plan comprehensive and convincing. As a result, a detailed plan is a must for obtaining capital or a loan.
What Does Business Plan Software Do?
Business plan software allows you to easily create or write a business plan. The software guides you through the questions your plan must answer. Rather than starting with a blank sheet of paper, the software let’s you know exactly what to include in your business plan and the order in which it should be completed.
You’ll also gain focus. Rather than thinking about what to include in your plan, you simply answer the questions the software lays out for you. Once you answer the questions, the software organizes and prints your document in the format preferred by investors and lenders.
Do I Need Business Plan Software?
Business plan software is extremely helpful to certain individuals. If you like working in web applications, and are ok having less control, then software is probably the best option for you. Conversely, if you like typing into a Microsoft Word document, appreciate maximum flexibility, and are comfortable with manipulating Excel spreadsheets, then getting a template in Word and Excel is probably your better option.
Typically, the plan program you choose will allow you to quickly answer questions rather than having to develop comprehensive answers. For example, when discussing your promotions plan, the software may list your promotional options such as radio advertising, social media marketing, pay per click advertising, etc. With planning software, you merely need to click the options you will employ. Without the program’s aides, you would need to write paragraphs describing each promotional method you will use.
A small business owner may find the strict guidance and assistance a good fit for small business needs. Financial forecasting and business goals guidance can be especially valuable for a small business, but the value ultimately depends on the owner’s experience, planning needs, and planning process.
Key Features of Business Planning Programs
Great software programs make it quick and easy for you to complete your business plan. The following features allow you to accomplish this:
Sample text: No matter the tool or application you end up using, you will have to write complete sentences. As an example, you’ll need to craft content to describe your company, products, etc. Great software gives you sample sentences that you can use and edit.
Automated financial statements: creating your business plan’s financial statements can be a lengthy and tedious process. Great software allows you to simply enter your assumptions, such as your salaries, prices, expected initial units sold and growth rates, and the software then calculates and presents your full financial statements.
Design options: An important feature of business plan software is its ability to allow you to choose the look and feel of your plan. For instance, a bakery’s business plan should look different than a business plan for a hedge fund.
Ability to omit sections: All business plans must have the same core sections such as an executive summary, marketing plan, competitive analysis and financial plan. However, some sub-sections are not relevant for all companies. For example, a distribution plan is required for companies that don’t sell directly to customers. You should be able to omit sections while working through the business plan creation process.
Check boxes: An important feature of business plan software is to show buttons or boxes that you merely need to click. For example, your company’s unique success factors can include the strengths of your management team, marketing plan, partnerships, competitive advantage, etc. Ideally your software already lists each potential success factor for you. If so, it’s much less work for you to simply check the relevant boxes and explain them, rather than trying to brainstorm your success factors and documenting them from scratch.
Why Shouldn’t I Use Business Planning Software?
If you are uncomfortable working online or are frustrated with technology, then you shouldn’t use business plan software. Rather, you should work in traditional spreadsheets and word processing programs.
Also, if you’d like complete control over your business plan, then software may not be right for you. Your program will generate your plan for you (typically as a PDF document) when complete. If you want to make several customizations, your software may not be able to handle it. Such customizations might include changing your footers, adding watermarks, including oversized pictures, including documents in your appendix, etc.
Paid vs Free Business Plan Software
The old saying “you get what you pay for” is often true, and in this scenario the old adage is accurate once again . While there are some free business plan software tools available, they tend to have significant drawbacks and limitations.
The biggest drawback of free business plan software is that they don’t include financial modeling capabilities. Your financial model is one of the most important parts of your business plan and the hardest to complete from scratch. If you don’t have a CPA or significant financial and spreadsheet experience, creating your financial model will be very difficult.
Also, free business plan software often skips key questions that investors and lenders must know before considering your company as a funding candidate. For example, if you don’t convey your unique success factors, which most programs neglect, you’ll be at a significant disadvantage in raising funding.
Benefits of Using Business Plan Software
Business plan software provides multiple benefits.
Makes the Process Simple
Software makes the whole process of writing or learning to write a business plan easier and more manageable. A business novice would need all the help they can get, but even an expert can sometimes make do with a little helping hand. The right business plan software gives you a step-by-step wizard to guide you through each component of your plan and advise you on what to include and/or exclude from your unique business plan. The right software will often include sample business plans as well.
Working with business plan software saves you time. You’ll quickly transform your business ideas and market research into a viable business proposition full of supportive and meaningful data. Business planning software has your business plan pre-organized saving you much time and energy.
Collaborative in Nature
Another value adding feature of business planning software is that it allows multiple team members to contribute individually to the plan. You can see and review items that have been incorporated by other members of your team. This collaborative spirit lets you take full advantage of the varied talents and competencies of the people on your team.
Assists with Your Financial Projections
Most people with a non-finance background find it incredibly hard to work on the financial aspect of a business plan. Your financial projections include calculating an income statement, projecting cash flow and creating a balance sheet.
This is a difficult but necessary part of your business plan since potential investors will scrutinize this financial data to determine the viability of your business. So, you cannot afford to project incorrect or incomplete numbers. The right business planning software helps convert your assumptions into a complete financial model to insert in your business plan.
There is a lot to be gained from working with a good program. The key is finding out which software is right for you and your business. Below we review the 5 best business plan software programs in the market to give you a holistic view of what is available and how to choose wisely.
Review of the 5 Best Business Plan Software Programs
[Note that PlanBuildr is a subsidiary of Growthink.]
PlanBuildr is one of the fastest growing business plan software in the world.
It is also the only business plan software that allows you to try it absolutely free (this it the direct link to try PlanBuildr for free)
With over 125,000 entrepreneurs and counting registered on the platform this software is a great starting point to masterfully build your business plan. PlanBuildr was created by talented people who have been influential leaders and experts in business planning and capital raising. With a vast array of features available to you, you are able to create the first draft of your business plan in just ten minutes. Such a quick delivery time without compromising on quality is unparalleled right now in the market.
Features Available at PlanBuildr
Ease of Use
PlanBuildr has come up with a great yet simple way to help you get started on your business plan. With PlanBuildr you get to complete simple fill-in-the blank questions that cover every element of your business plan. In this short and simple way, PlanBuildr constructs a draft of your business plan by using your answers as the base. You just fill in the blanks and PlanBuildr does the rest. Within minutes you get a working draft of your business plan.
Strong Financial Modeling Capabilities
PlanBuildr goes the extra mile when it comes to creating complete financial projections for your business plan. You just have to enter elementary figures like the number of products you think you will sell in the coming years and PlanBuildr will compute your full five-year financial forecast.
With this software you can easily create your income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement within minutes. PlanBuildr is also able to project these numbers onto various charts and informative graphs to help present your data in a way that makes it easy to understand and analyze.
Experience in Every Industry
PlanBuildr has comprehensive experience creating business plans in every industry from hospitality to travel and tourism and from food service to non- profits. PlanBuildr’s portfolio is quite wide and impressive. So, no matter what field your business is in, PlanBuildr can help turn your idea into a successful reality.
PlanBuildr contains ten skillful designs that will make your business plan look thoroughly professional. Choose any design and see your business plan transform into an amazingly well- outlined document that will immediately impress even those who see hundreds of business plans on a daily basis.
On the whole, PlanBuildr is a highly strategic tool which creates a world-class business plan for you while also suggesting several improvements to further enhance the quality of your plan. It is a great resource to have on your side as you venture out to create a business legacy for yourself. PlanBuildr is deservedly the top of our picks of great business plan software.
Price: Free and Paid options
Rating: 5 stars
Quick pros list: user friendly, easy, free/inexpensive
Quick cons list: need an internet connection
Why it’s recommended: PlanBuildr is a quick, easy and inexpensive way to create your business plan.
Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template
Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template is the result of 20+ years of hard work by the renowned business planning expert, and co-founder/president of Growthink, Dave Lavinsky.
Called the business plan expert by sources including Business Week, Lavinsky has been instrumental in helping hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs complete their business plans and raise billions of dollars in funding. After earning his MBA from UCLA’s prestigious Anderson School of Management, Lavinsky has dedicated his career to helping entrepreneurs create winning business plans.
Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template is also one of our top picks because of the sheer number and quality of features it provides a budding business entrepreneur. Also, since it comes as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel document there is no complicated software to use and you can quickly and easily complete your plan.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of what you can expect when you get the Ultimate Business Plan Template:
Sometimes when you are working on a business plan by yourself it’s easy to be swept away by passion and leave practical considerations behind. This becomes evident only when you present your plan to actual investors who then find that your plan lacks focus and direction. With Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template you are guided into creating a business plan which covers each of the key points investors and lenders need to see. This maximizes your chances of securing funding in the form of equity and/or business loans.
Excellent Customer Service
Apart from step-by-step guidance throughout the whole business plan creation process, Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template provides free customer service year-round. Here dedicated customer support professionals will answer all your queries and help you walk through the different features of the Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template.
They also offer a “Members Area” where you get immediate answers to all your business questions and additional support in the form of samples and resources to aid your developing business plan.
When you get Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template you also get lifetime access to it. You can use it multiple times for multiple business endeavors in the future. You just make a single payment and that is it. There are no pesky monthly charges. This is a great deal for a great product.
With tremendous operational, financial and design capabilities Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template is a comprehensive system to which you can trust your business plan. Growthink is so confident in their services (and rightly so!) that it offers a 365-day money back guarantee. So, you can try out this immensely useful resource without any monetary pressure.
Rating: 5 stars
Quick pros list: quickly and easily create a professional business plan for funding from investors and/or lenders; extremely flexible.
Quick cons list: more expensive than PlanBuildr
Why it’s recommended: This is the gold standard for business planning. If you need funding then there’s no better option.
LivePlan is another business plan software that offers some decent learning tools and financial services. However, it loses out to the first two business plan software because of its slightly steep learning curve. With Live Plan you need to invest some time in understanding the software and some might even experience difficulties in working with it.
The user interface can be smoother and more user-friendly. Their pricing is competitive; their annual and monthly plans priced at $139.92 and $19.95 respectively that you can choose from depending on your need and budget.
Rating: 3 stars
Quick pros list: easy to use; fairly intuitive
Quick cons list: clunky in places; expensive ($240/year if paying monthly)
Why it’s recommended: Liveplan is a solid piece of software based on years of development and updates.
As a business plan software PlanGuru provides over twenty forecasting features that help you create a unique business plan for yourself. Here, you can expect to receive plenty of help with both financial and non-financial aspects of a business plan. PlanGuru assists in creating cash flow statements, income statements, sales projections, P&L statements and balance sheets- all quintessential in a robust business plan.
Unfortunately pricing is extremely expensive. Their monthly plan is $99/month while their annual plan is $899/year.
Price: $99/month or $899/year
Rating: 2 stars
Quick pros list: good software with good financial forecasting capabilities
Quick cons list: price is too expensive for most entrepreneurs and small business owners
Why it’s recommended: if money isn’t an object, you can use this software to build a strong financial model
ABS Ultimate Business Planner
The ABS Ultimate Business Planner helps simplify the process of writing a business plan by providing numerous business resources and sample business plans. Their step-by-step guide directs you expertly through your individual business plan while providing some pertinent suggestions along the way.
The product however is a bit “clunky” and hasn’t changed much since it was first launched many years ago.
Rating: 2 stars
Quick pros list: includes sample business plans; good financial forecasting capabilities
Quick cons list: price is high for limited features and a bit clunky to use
Why it’s recommended: if none of the other options above fit your needs, this is a worthwhile alternative.
A well-written business plan will attract and influence investors, giving you the necessary funding, and hence an opportunity, to set up and/or grow your idea. The right tools are essential for helping you and your team accomplish this goal. While there is no best business planning application or best business plan software, it’s worth reviewing the options available to see if there might be a user-friendly, business plan creator that will help you with the planning process.