Consultants who are technically savvy but lacking in business acumen may find that Bplans.com can fill the gaps in their business knowledge. The site offers sample business plans and information about starting a company, marketing the business, and making the most of your e-commerce earning potential.
Many IT consultants visit the site to gain insight into the business-planning aspects of IT to supplement their technical know-how, said Doug Wilson, vice president of sales and marketing for Palo Alto Software in Eugene, OR, and founder of the consulting firm Strategic Advantage. Palo Alto Software produces Bplans.com.
The value of Bplans.com for IT consultants is in its sample plans, online planning tools, online resources, and business-planning newsletter. I’ll outline the site's free features and resources for TechRepublic members. Other services and opportunities on Bplans.com require a software purchase or fee.
Site visitors will notice the four quadrants in the upper right-hand corner of Bplans.com (see Figure A). Each describes a section of the site that may interest IT consultants who are about to begin their own consultancy or who are helping a client in a new business venture:
- Starting a Business contains information about the costs and legal implications of opening a business.
- Write a Business Plan offers sample business plans for a variety of business types divided into categories: product, service, start-up, and established.
- Market Your Business provides articles regarding marketing your business and sample marketing plans that provide a reference for the content, scope, and look and feel a plan should have.
- Your Business Online provides information on creating Web site plans. In addition to sample plans, visitors can read an online book with strategies for getting the most from a Web site.
Users generally visit Bplans.com to view sample plans, so the site was designed to provide easy access to the various examples available, Wilson said. Visitors may also quickly find the type of plan they're looking for by searching the sample plan index by business type or by using the PlanWizard, which asks questions to help pinpoint the type of plan that best suits your needs. If you prefer to browse, use the links provided to:
- View all business plans.
- View all marketing plans.
- View all Web site plans.
- View all advertising plans.
When you find the plan you'd like to study, you can view it in several ways. For a quick overview, see the Business Plan Outline, as illustrated in Figure B, which appears to the left of the sample plan. From the outline, you can click to expand the section you're most interested in. For example, if you're viewing the sample plan for Calico Computer Consulting and you expand the Mission section, you'll find declarations of purpose, vision, and mission, as well as a marketing slogan for the business (see Figure C).
Online planning tools
To assist you in developing your own business plan, Bplans.com has several online planning tools:
- The PlanWizard is the aforementioned search tool that identifies business plans that match your intended ventures.
- The MiniPlan Tool helps you make an initial assessment of your business plan, test your objectives, define a mission, analyze your markets, and determine your break-even point. You may choose to simply view your plan or send it to colleagues with or without the right to edit.
- The StartingCosts Tool helps you calculate the initial costs of your potential business, with consideration for monthly overhead, sales forecasts, and the break-even point.
- The FinanceWizard is a search engine that directs you to recommended funding options, based on your answers to multiple-choice questions. The site provides explanations and Web links to options such as venture capital, angels, and bank loans.
You may use these tools for free as a registered member of Bplans.com. The registration process is simple, requiring only an e-mail address and password. As a registered user, you can visit My.Bplans.com to find a personalized page that indicates which of the online planning tools you've used. Registration also qualifies you for a $10 discount on Palo Alto's software products.
Bplans' online resources
Bplans.com's online resource section has several free sources that may expedite your research. First, you can locate a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) through the SBDC search utility, which provides names and addresses of offices in your area. SBDCs, funded in part by the Small Business Administration, provide professional advice at low prices for small businesses.
The searchable planning glossary offers definitions in laymen’s terms of complex terms related to business planning. For example, Figure D shows the planning glossary’s definition of Distinctive Competency.
The planning resources section can direct you to other sites with online content focused on your planned venture's market segment. Browse the categories of the site's Business Planning Resource Locator to find links to online discussions, articles, downloads, and products.
You may also find answers to your questions in the site's Expert Advice or Ask the Experts sections. Collectively, the databases have over 1,600 questions and answers on file. You may also submit your question; it will be answered in a personal e-mail to the address you specify. All submitted questions are answered, usually within 24 hours, Wilson said.
In some cases, the inquirer receives a link to a previous answer that matches his or her query. Otherwise, the question is forwarded to the member of Bplans' expert panel who is best suited to the topic. Tim Berry, the president of Palo Alto Software, responds to many of those questions, Wilson said. Berry is the founder of Palo Alto, the principal author of its software, the author of several books, and a popular business-planning and software speaker.
Register as a consultant with Bplans.com
If you can provide expert advice for Bplans.com visitors, consider registering as a planning consultant with Bplans.com. If you've collaborated with a client using Palo Alto Software programs, you can also become one of the site's user-reviewed consultants and win new business as a business-planning, marketing-planning, or e-commerce consultant, Wilson said.
Potential clients can search registered consultants by area of expertise or location. Bplans.com takes no commissions or fees, and lists consultant information as a service to its visitors.
"We have a significant amount of traffic that comes to view these consultants and connect with them as a potential resource," Wilson said. The site serves over one-half million visitors each month.
If you'd prefer to receive planning tips in your inbox, you may choose to sign up for the free biweekly newsletter, which promises news, special offers, and business-planning articles. If you're not sure you want another piece of e-mail, take a look at the newsletter archive dating back to April, 1999. The April 10 edition's featured topic was marketing on a small budget.