Techniques: Off the Shelf

New software can help you write a compelling business plan--as long as you have hours to spare

When my husband and I founded our company, in 1986, we raised capital by relying on his reputation and luck. But I knew that the next time we needed money we'd have to be more professional. So I supplied our business consultant with our financial data, and he produced a handsome business plan--which has been gathering dust on my credenza since 1995. If PlanWrite Expert Edition could get me to write a new plan, I was ready.

After a glitch-free software installation, I read over PlanWrite's marketing materials. The company's customers include huge corporations, but I liked picturing our $2-million baby playing with the big kids. Watch out, Federal Express and Boeing. Here comes Printcom!

The program led me through a series of questions, asking me to rate my company on factors ranging from customer loyalty to industry maturity. It was slow going, and I was always conscious of the ever-present on-screen indicator tracking how many sections I'd completed. The program's voracious appetite for data kept sending me to search through piles of files. And don't think that the prose just writes itself. With one essay question after another, it took me ages to pass the 30% mark.

As I entered information detailing distribution practices, pricing, competition, market life cycles, and so on, the program calculated our potential for success. By clicking on the "adviser" button, I could see our score. The documentation warns that a score exceeding 80% probably reflects excessive optimism but a score of 70% indicates only a "fair" chance of long-term survival.

When I saw the disappointing 72% that our 12-year-old company had earned, I investigated the program's rationale. Clicking on the "trace" button, I learned both how the program "thinks" and how easy it is to outwit the "adviser." The program is biased toward companies planning product introductions into immature markets. It doesn't value a unique approach to a mature market. We're in commercial printing--an apparently mature industry--and I couldn't get the software to recognize that we sell solutions and service, not just ink on paper. So I adjusted my response, saying our industry was an immature one. Our score rose to 79%.

The package promises a plan that will withstand target-shooting attempts by potential lenders, and I assure you it's worth its price--to the right customer. If you're looking to mount an initial public offering, for instance, you'll find this an excellent tool--especially if your full-time accounting and marketing personnel have time to gather and enter the information necessary for the software to do its job.

As for me, I ended up with a document of some 100 pages, rich with charts and divided into more than 120 parts. Still, the next time I need to update our plan, I'm going to look for the software's standard version, PlanWrite for Business. Giants like FedEx and Boeing can stick with their own kind.

The Product: PlanWrite Expert Edition, from Business Resource Software Inc., in Austin (800-423-1228;; $229.95)

Reviewer: Judy Coovert, cofounder of Printcom Inc., a commercial printing and design company in Seattle

Requirements: Windows 95 or Windows 3.1; 4MB available hard-disk space; 8MB RAM

Published on: Jun 15, 1998