Businesses come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s one thing they all have in common—a sound business plan is crucial for long-term success. Operating without one is the equivalent of flying blind, after all. In fact, the Harvard Business Review points to a 2016 study that found that entrepreneurs who create formal business plans are 16% more likely to become viable than those who don’t.
An effective business plan is one that defines what your company does, outlines your goals, and makes a roadmap for getting there. It’s something that deserves your attention, whether you’re an established business seeking new financing or a brand-new startup that needs capital to get up and running. Of course, sketching out a detailed business plan takes focus and know-how.
1. The Business Plan Shop
Building a business plan that both captures your vision and lays the groundwork for funding isn’t always easy. This (somewhat) free business plan software from The Business Plan Shop is especially handy for financial forecasting and understanding your capital needs.
- It’s straightforward and guided: This platform provides a comprehensive, step-by-step guide for materializing your business plan. It’s focused on practical action items to help you feel confident as you find your way through each section of the plan.
- It takes care of most formatting concerns: You’re less likely to run into formatting or structure issues, thanks to the way the platform is built. That means you can just focus on the content of your business plan without having to fuss with making it look clean and easy to read.
- It makes financial forecasting less intimidating: Assessing how profitable your business will ultimately be is a tall order. The Business Plan Shop allows for simple financial forecasting to give you the most accurate idea of how much capital you’re going to need. Visualize it all with customized tables and charts. You’ll also get a cash flow forecast for your first year, along with financial statements over three or five years.
- Convert your business plan into multiple document types: When your business plan is all buttoned up, you’ll get the written part and the financials as PDF and Word documents. This makes for easy sharing.
- Monthly subscriptions will set you back $25: This includes two projects and two users (in case your business partner wants to jump in). There is one workaround, though—you can take advantage of a free seven-day trial and bang out your business plan within that time frame without paying a dime.
- Reaching customer support isn’t immediate: Instead of a phone number or live chat, the site only provides a contact form. That means those who need immediate help with their business plan will have to hold tight. You probably won’t have much luck on its social media pages, either—they haven’t been updated in quite some time.
Drafting a strong business plan can be an intimidating process, so Enloop holds your hand a little—in a good way. In other words, it guides you through the process and demystifies the most important steps.
- It helps you fill in the gaps: Not everyone is a creative wordsmith. If you find yourself stalling out when it comes to describing key parts of your business, you might find Enloop really valuable. The complimentary version of this free business plan software includes automated text writing. The program basically comes up with custom text that’s guided by your financial data. You can edit as you see fit, but at the very least, it’s a jumping-off point.
- It zeros in on business finances: Enloop crunches the numbers for you, then generates financial projections and statements that are unique to your business. You’ll get 16 different financial ratios to help you make sense of your financial forecast. What’s more, the platform provides a comparison to show how you measure up to your peers. You’ll also receive auto-generated financial reports, which you might need when raising capital.
- It churns out a helpful performance score: While firming up your business plan, Enloop generates a real-time score to show you how strong it is. The higher the score, the more muscle it has. Seeing this calculation in black and white could provide built-in motivation to make necessary tweaks and adjustments.
- It isn’t entirely free: The lower-level Enloop membership costs $19.95 per month. The good news is that you can opt for a free week-long trial that includes all the same features, minus the ability to invite others to view or edit your business plan.
- There’s no direct line to customer service: This is the same downside we came across with The Business Plan Shop. Some users have complained that getting in touch with Enloop support could be easier. Their internal contact form is your only option, which may be a challenge if you’re on a deadline.
Lastly, PlanWare is a simple, no-frills software that truly is free of charge. It’s made up of a 48-page Word template that breaks down the ins and outs of structuring your business plan.
- You have access to the building blocks of your business plan: PlanWare’s free plan provides the raw material necessary to build a customized business plan. Sample charts, tables, and text are all included to help you get your business vision and financials down on paper in a way that makes sense to others.
- PlanWare throws in extra help (for free): Those who opt for the free plan will also get a complimentary help guide that translates to over 100 pages of assistance. It unpacks how to fill in each section of your business plan and also explores marketing strategies, financial projections, funding, and more.
- An outdated interface: When it comes to having a modern, user-friendly interface, PlanWare’s landing page leaves much to be desired. It has an outdated look and feel, which may be a turnoff before you even get started. However, those who can get past that and give this free business plan software a chance may be pleasantly surprised by what it can actually do.
Basic Components of a Strong Business Plan
When deciding which free business plan software program to choose, it pays to also understand what goes into a strong business plan. It isn’t just an internal document—it’s also a tool that gives you leverage when approaching potential partners, investors and lenders. It sounds like a lot, but breaking it down into bite-sized pieces makes it a little less intimidating. A solid business plan typically includes:
- Executive summary: This is a brief opener that provides a clear description of what your business is all about. It should include your mission statement, general company information (including what goods or services you provide), a market analysis, financial information, and plans for the future.
- Company overview: This is an opportunity to focus on your business structure. Zero in on your industry, the hole your business fills in the market, and your company’s legal structure.
- Market analysis: While the first two sections of your business plan provide a big-picture view, the market analysis is where you want to drill down on the nitty-gritty details. The goal is to position yourself as an expert in your industry and market—and prove that you’ve got a leg up on the competition.
- Organizational structure: This is where you break down your business’s management structure and organizational hierarchy. You can also throw in some background information on the owners and board of directors.
- A deep dive into your products and/or services: The goal here is to provide a clear and thorough description of exactly what it is you’re selling. Define how you’re currently bringing it to market, if you’re at that stage, along with your sourcing strategy. Research and development details go here, as well.
- Sales and marketing strategy: A key part of your business plan is communicating how you plan on marketing and selling your products and services. This involves a thorough understanding of competitors. You’ll also want to explore your selling strategy and the team you’ll lean on to carry it out.
- Financial plan and forecasting: Your financial plan and projections carry a lot of weight in your business plan. This is where you’ll outline important financial statements that investors and lenders care most about. Your funding request goes here, as well.
- Appendix: Round out your business plan with an appendix that lists any supporting details or further explanation that may be necessary—think footnotes, charts, data points and the like. Some entrepreneurs also slide their resume into this section.
The Bottom Line
A strong business plan pulls double duty—it organizes your vision and goals while also positioning your company to appeal to investors and lenders. Bringing this document to life requires some time and energy on the front end, but that’s an investment most entrepreneurs feel good making.
Free business plan software is worth exploring as it can help elevate your plan. It also reduces the likelihood of forgetting something important. Of course, if you’re considering paid options as well, check out our guide on the best business plan software.
1. Harvard Business Review. “Research: Writing a Business Plan Makes Your Startup More Likely to Succeed.”
Marianne Hayes is a small business owner and longtime freelance writer who’s been covering personal finance for nearly a decade. She specializes in small business news, budgeting, saving, and wealth management. Marianne has written for Forbes, CNBC, LendingTree, Experian, Mint, LearnVest, The Daily Beast, HuffPost, and more. When she isn’t writing about small business and finance, she’s teaching creative writing workshops and curling up with a good book. She lives in Florida with her husband, three daughters, and miniature dachshund. Marianne has a degree in journalism and creative writing from the University of Central Florida.