After reading my recent article on developing a business plan, Peter Thorsson of Palo Alto Software offered to set me up with an evaluation subscription to LivePlan, an online service for developing and maintaining a business plan.
- Pricing: $19.95 per month, no contract required
- Browser support: Chrome (latest release only), Safari (latest two releases), Firefox (latest two releases), Internet Explorer 8 and up.
Regarding browser support, those are the platforms they regularly test. They don't prevent you from running in other browsers.
Who is it for?
LivePlan is for entrepreneurs who need to develop a business plan, whether for a startup or an existing business. It does seem to cater more towards startups and companies seeking new funding, though — when I tried to enter the year I started my consulting business (1991), I got an error stating "Please enter a realistic year (2000 or later)."
I guess we '90s entrepreneurs are all supposed to be extinct by now. (Click the image to enlarge.)
You can use LivePlan to develop a plan for any type of business, which is both a good and bad thing. Because it isn't tailored for consulting, it doesn't provide any guidance specific to that type of business. Although LivePlan provides four or five examples of how to write each section (which you can copy and edit), those examples are for businesses like pet care, butcher shop, catering, hardware store, and accounting firm.
What problems does it solve?
The best thing about LivePlan is that it asks all the questions you need to answer for your business plan, even if those questions tend to be generic rather than targeted for consulting. Of course, a document template could do that just as well.
Click the image to enlarge.
However, LivePlan also provides rudimentary features for financial planning, scheduling, and tracking performance over time. While other tools might be better suited for these functions, it's nice to have them integrated into the same package.
- The entire outline is editable, so you can add sections specific to your business, or edit or remove sections that don't apply.
- Supports multiple plans
- Financial Plan contains all the basic formulas for computing projected profit or loss, with charts.
- Scoreboard allows you to track and chart past performance.
- Export plan to PDF or Word (docx) format
- There is no way to import financial data except from QuickBooks to the Scoreboard.
- The site has no API (other than screen-scraping).
- Scheduling is rudimentary. Enter milestones with responsible person and optional email reminders. No critical path analysis. There doesn't even seem to be a way to print the schedule.
- Although you can develop more than one plan, there doesn't seem to be a way to copy an existing plan.
- According to the LivePlan site, they don't routinely test their app on any mobile device, nor do they offer any tailored mobile experience. Neither do they express support for any operating system other than Windows or Mac.
Bottom line for business
Consultants have the reputation of being great talkers, but when your focus is on IT then your business plan might not be your best subject. In fact, geeks tend to ignore business planning to their detriment. Having a tool like LivePlan to prompt you through the process of writing your business plan could be just what you need in order to get it done. Twenty dollars is a small price to pay for that service.
However, the decision to continue that subscription after you've written a plan would depend on how stable you expect your plan to be. In my opinion, the performance tracking and scheduling features in LivePlan aren't strong enough to warrant continuing the subscription, so the only reason for doing so would be if you anticipated needing to generate a new or updated plan on a regular basis.
- Business Plan Pro, also by Palo Alto Software (oddly, unable to share data with LivePlan).
- Fundable Plans
Where to go for more info
Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant blog, he also contributes to [Geeks Are Sexy] Technology News and his two personal blogs, Chip's Quips and Chip's Tips for Developers.