Business-planning software isn’t just for startups and SMBs anymore. Many of these tools have been transformed into multitasking workhorses, with enterprise product marketing and development team leaders using them to suss out road maps and financials for individual products.
I reviewed four SaaS-based products for developing business plans from the point of view of a product marketing executive needing to wrangle all the costs of developing, launching and marketing a new product or service. I wanted a product that could establish revenue goals with trackable metrics, create reports on all financials, and allow access by multiple users within the product marketing group.
In addition, I looked at whether the product provided a means of creating a go-to-market strategy, pitches and marketing plans and whether it integrated with leading productivity tools such as Microsoft Word, Outlook and Excel. I put a check in the plus column if the tool integrated with leading enterprise accounting software such as QuickBooks and Xero and recognized multiple forms of currency, since many businesses are multinational.
I wanted a product that was intuitive and granular and that made it simple for me to wrap every aspect of a product launch into one application so that I wouldn’t have to dink around setting up separate documents, such as Excel spreadsheets with ever-changing formulas, PowerPoint presentations and Word docs. And it would have to be accessible from anywhere, in the cloud.
Of the four I reviewed, I liked LivePlan and Enloop — which are comparably priced — the most for my purposes. Both led me through various processes from start to finish, whether it was helping me strategize and clarify my product marketing pitch, tackling financial data or producing a final, professional document to present to the higher-ups. LivePlan does a little more hand-holding than Enloop in the strategizing and marketing pitch area, but if you have those parts of the process down already, either in your head or in another document, then Enloop will work nicely.
And both LivePlan and Enloop publish the security measures they take to ensure that my data is protected. It's always a good idea to closely review any SaaS application Terms of Service and Privacy policies before you commit for the long term.
The Bizplan and StratPad Cloud user interfaces were harder to negotiate than LivePlan’s and Enloop’s were. StratPad’s UI was too busy, and Bizplan’s was oversimplified, causing me to hunt down subsections.
Bizplan is one of six SaaS products in the Startups.co platform, which helps startups get off the ground by facilitating funding, helping them find mentors and customers and providing other assistance. Yes, it’s billed as being for startups, but a new product is very much like a startup, with the product manager creating a business plan to drive the new product’s development, launch and critical first few years of existence.
For $14.50 a month (billed annually), the Business version of Bizplan lets you set up two different companies or products and share the data with up to four collaborators for each company or product and an unlimited number of viewers. The Premium version ($24.50 per month if billed annually) allows up to five companies or products, unlimited collaborators and unlimited viewers. (There's also a Starter plan for $9.50/mo. if billed annually, but it doesn't allow collaboration.)
Bizplan does not provide a trial period, and nope, no refunds if it does not suit your needs. That said, if you start with a month-to-month subscription ($29/mo. for the Business plan), you can cancel before your 30-day period is up to keep your trial expenses to a minimum.
The user interface is clean and simple, with its main navigational bar running vertically down the left side of the screen. The application’s primary focus is on finance, which is the first section you’re guided to set up after the basic product information.
Financial data is categorized as personnel, expenses, revenue and capital, and clear definitions and descriptions of what data you need to input in each are provided. Sub-menus that lie beneath each of those four categories help you get a clear picture of where you stand. For example, under expenses is a section detailing what you planned and what the actual expenses were. Bizplan integrates with QuickBooks and Xero accounting software.
Next up was the business plan, which was divided into several sections, including the summary or pitch, problem, solution, market and customer target, and competitive analysis. I liked that it took the plan further, with strategy, risk and traction sections. Bizplan includes as traction things such as the addition of notable customers, user or customer growth, the current sales pipeline, strategic partnerships and press mentions. This information is important to include when validating product sales or discussing the product’s road map or ongoing efforts with top-tier corporate executives.
Bizplan worked well for my new-product launch planning purposes. It gave sufficient descriptions and hand-holding to ensure that I ended up with a comprehensive plan. Startups.co has some great management and mentoring resources that any executive or manager could spend hours poking around in and learning from.
Enloop’s subscription pricing structure starts with a free version, then bumps to Basic ($6 per month when billed annually), Advanced ($11 per month billed annually) and Professional ($24 per month billed annually). The more you pay, the more functionality and number of users you get. What’s appealing about this structure is that there isn’t a trial period you have to keep track of, and you don’t have to use your credit card just to explore the product.
If I were buying this to build product business plans that other team members needed to complete pieces of, I’d go with the Advanced plan. Let’s face it, the head of a product marketing and development group is likely to be herding cats for more than one product’s growth. You’ll get five plans, five users, three financial ratio analyses per plan, rich text formatting, spell check in 16 languages and integration with QuickBooks Online. My mind was also put at ease by the company’s published data security measures.
The user interface makes it super easy to get started. In setup, you choose forecast time frame and currency, invite your appropriate team members to the plan, and drop in your company logo. At each step during the setup phase, Enloop shows you what you can select and also entices with what’s available in plans you didn’t choose. This is cool, because you’ll know right away, not down the road, if you need to upgrade to fill your needs. The Advanced plan gives you three years of monthly forecasting.
Enloop has three main sections: Add Info, View Reports and View Your Plan. Enloop recommends that you complete the sections in the proper order, although, if you want, you can jump around. Popup windows guide you as you move through the app, in many cases defining the information it's asking you for, making it easy to complete. An advanced or higher-level user can use the edit controls to format text or insert copied content. I love that the content editor collects information you’ve input from earlier subsections and drops it into the Business Idea Text content-editing window so you don’t have to rekey it.
When I got down into the Product & Sales subsection of the Add Info section, the app started trying to upsell me. It was annoying and cut into my flow, but I was using the free version, so that’s to be expected. The Add Info section also has Marketing, Personnel and Financial Information subsections, all important, to complete.
View Reports gave me financial forecasts, ratios and a detailed report card of the plan I’d built. Finally, the View Your Plan section provided a preview of the plan and prepared it as a PDF.
Enloop is a great all-around SaaS business plan product. It’s simple to figure out which subscription to buy, the UI is logically designed and organized, and it guides you intuitively through the process.
Palo Alto Software’s LivePlan excelled for my purposes of building a product launch and go-to-market plan. LivePlan’s most reasonable price is $11.66 per month when billed annually. You’ll save 40% this way and get 60 days to try it, after which you will receive a 100% refund if you decide to end the subscription.
The application starts you off creating a “company,” which in my case was a new product. Two team members can collaborate on the plan (even simultaneously), and an unlimited number of viewers can review your plan. You can also create multiple product or business plans, but you can only work on one of those plans at a time unless you pay an additional fee.
I input a forecast start and length, chose how much detail I wanted and designated a currency for calculations. Then came the fun part: diving into the plan.
LivePlan gives you several options, including Pitch, Plan, Forecast and Scoreboard, to use as your starting point. Because Pitch was the first option and I love marketing messaging, I chose to go that route. I decided to change the name of the company/product in the Pitch section — the main Pitch page prominently displays a button labeled “Click here to change your company name” — but the application wouldn’t save it even after I selected Done. With IM chat help, I found a second way to accomplish this in the Options dropdown, and that was successful.
Another problem I encountered: When I input information such as “problem,” “solution messaging” and “target market” in the Pitch section, it wasn’t automatically applied to the Plan section. Having to rekey everything seems like a basic functional defect that could be easily addressed. The LivePlan help desk told me that the development team is working on this.
The Forecast section provides guidance and helpful advice as you establish revenue and expense expectations, including direct costs and personnel. You can create more than one forecast, which is helpful, since things rarely go as originally planned.
I loved that the application challenged me to dive into competitive analysis in the Benchmarks section, because this is key to any new product’s success. Just as important is speed to market, and the Schedule section keeps the team on track by providing email reminders of upcoming deadlines and late notices.
Once you start executing on the plan, the Scoreboard section will keep you apprised of whether you’re doing better or worse than plan. Scoreboard is also the section where you hook your business plan up to accounting software; LivePlan integrates with QuickBooks and Xero in the event you have a separate account for your project.
I like that the service provides strong security and privacy measures, as described on its FAQ page.
LivePlan is a well-thought-out, feature-rich application with several customization options in each section and good tech support. Aside from the couple of hiccups I mentioned, LivePlan was a joy to work with, encouraged my entrepreneurial spirit and removed the tediousness of developing a plan.
The company bills StratPad Cloud as “rocket fuel for business.” Watered-down rocket fuel, I’d say, what with a user interface that’s busier than it needs to be, making navigating between sections somewhat tedious until I caught on. I can forgive this, though, since the basic version is free.
The downside to free is that you can work with only one business plan and one user. But you can upgrade to a paid version at a reasonable cost. For example, if you choose annual billing you can pay $20 per month for five plans, or $40 for an unlimited number of plans. Each of these options includes additional user sharing.
Most of the sections you need to complete are in the vertical navigation menu. It immediately takes you to a screen for completing customer/client descriptions and then dives into standard problem, solution and competitor information that helps define product differentiators for use in marketing messaging, and even product development. I did like that it took me directly to these facets of the plan before addressing the financial aspects, because it helped clarify markets and customer targets, which made it easier for me to assess revenue streams attached to those customer types. Having a well-thought-out business plan and strategy to back it up led to more accurate financial data and forecasts.
After all the groundwork has been done, StratPad gives you a great way to map out your plan in different phases (although it uses the word “project” instead of “phase”). For instance, let’s say that from January through March you’re building your product. That’s one project. A second project might be the marketing phase. That might start in March and be ongoing, or it could overlap, so that it begins before the product build project is completed. In essence, StratPad has added a project management toolkit to its business plan tool, a feature none of the other products in this roundup has.
It disappointed me that there wasn’t a way to import data such as project revenue and expenses from an Excel sheet. You have to enter that data manually, but once it’s all in the app, it will let you export it back to Excel. The reports include standard profit/loss, monthly worksheets and income statements as well as overall strategic diagrams, Gantt charts and meeting agendas from your various projects.
Just in case you were wondering about tech support and tutorials, StratPad College is a great collection of videos, tutorials and other content that will persuade the entrepreneurial spirit in you to write and plan in elaborate style.
StratPad is a great business-planning tool if you already have strong ideas about direction and don’t mind a little extra data entry. The project-planning piece is a nice touch, and you can’t beat the price for the basic version.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.