Q: Any suggestions for an easy-to-use, yet comprehensive program for developing a business plan? -- L.D., Los Angeles
A: Writing a business plan doesn't have to be difficult. Free business-plan outlines are offered at office.com, bulletproofbizplans.com, or the Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov). Books such as How to Really Create a Successful Business Plan by David E. Gumpert (Inc. Publishing, $19.95), feature case studies and other tips. More titles are listed at www.e-businessplan.com/books.html.
Business-plan software provides interactive templates and automated financial calculations. But be careful: Such programs can result in a "canned" document, which may not reflect what makes your business special. So start with software, then personalize it. Popular software titles include Business Plan Pro ($89.95 at businessplanpro.com), and Automate Your Business Plan, ($80, downloadable at business-plan.com).
If you're looking for investors, it might be best to hire a professional business-planning consultant. Get local referrals, or contact an agency such as National Consultant Referrals Inc. at referrals.com. And shop around. Prices can range from $2,500 to as high as $30,000
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