If you dream about starting a business, what's stopping you? If you're like many would-be entrepreneurs, you may worry about the multitude of unknowns or fear risking too much in a failure-prone world of startup business. To beat the odds and avoid running out of money, successful entrepreneurs prepare by developing rigorous financial plans that forecast essential information such as how much money it'll take to get off the ground and what to expect in the first few years so they can best allocate resources. Smart financial planning is crucial, but actually developing a reliable plan can feel impossible.

A wealth of knowledge publicly available on the Web--SBA resources and free tools like the Startup Financial Planner from Intuit, for example--can help calculate the true cost of getting started for anyone wanting to launch a business. So now, whether you want to open a café in Georgia or launch a Web development company in Utah, it's possible to see exactly how existing companies have done it and truly plan for business in the real world.

Here are a few principles to consider when planning your startup's finances using the Startup Financial Planner.

Forecasting Startup Costs

People decide to start a new business for many different reasons, and they come to the initiative with a range of different skills--and gaps. Some entrepreneurs seek more personal fulfillment through work they're passionate about, others want more control over their time, and yes, some simply hope to earn more money. Yet entrepreneurs come to the competitive world of business with a wide range of financial know-how.

So, while motivation varies--and an entrepreneur's reason for starting a business no doubt influences how she or her perceives and responds to the risks involved--the importance of being truly prepared for the financial reality of a startup business applies to all entrepreneurs.

Even if you're aware of all the different types of startup expenses, it can be tempting to sugarcoat the numbers when you're anxious to get started. But being honest with yourself. Creating an accurate tally of startup costs can be the difference between success and failure. For example, underestimating the financial implications of legal structure or overlooking relevant types of business insurance to save money can add up to long-term--and pricey--trouble.

The Startup Financial Planner accounts for every detail of an entrepreneur's startup costs, which include all the expenses incurred before a business actually opens. Cumbersome to digest? Sure. But knowing the actual cost of preparing to open a certain type of business can ensure you save adequately and time the start of your journey well for the best chance of success. After all, carefully considering your costs up front is much less cumbersome than recouping from startup collapse.

Preparing for Year One

Without a clear picture of what the first year of company financials will probably look like, entrepreneurs run a serious risk of allocating resources inappropriately and running out of cash to pay suppliers--or even the rent.

Again, the Startup Financial Planner has this issue covered. After a user enters all the applicable costs into the fields as prompted, the tool generates a financial analysis that shows total costs for first year of business as well as a breakeven analysis with the specific number of months it'll take to recoup startup expenses and ongoing costs. Users can even see how their financial data compares to real businesses in their industry and state.

This analysis is available for download as a personal reference, and entrepreneurs can use the analysis as a first-draft financial statement to share with banks, investors, and potential partners. When a user is ready to get started, links on the last page point to the entrepreneur's state registration form, the site to apply for a Federal Employer Identification Number, and even contact information for a qualified accountant nearby--all based on user-selected filters at the beginning of the planner.

Heeding Expert Advice

Keep in mind that numbers can't tell the whole story of successful entrepreneurship. Even the best financial forecasting and fiscal planning don't guarantee success in business--because those critical markers of the startup experience don't account for the impact of realistic expectations for how much time and energy a new business requires and other sometimes-surprising aspects of entrepreneurship.

If you choose to use the Startup Financial Planner, be sure to explore the advice and interview excerpts from veteran entrepreneurs and small business consultants, including Gillian Muessig, CEO of Outlines Venture Group and co-founder of MOZ, and Dharmesh Shah, chief technology officer & co-founder of Hubspot.