Saturday 16 August 2014

Build your own: Online Business Planning toolset - The best free tools

Making a business plan is a tool for communicating your business ideas to others, identifying flaws and attempting to promote future success with a clear set of goals.

Because the best ideas come to us wherever we may be, it's useful to formulate our plans- or at least make a note of them whilst we're on the move. We can use simple methods like:

  1. Emailing ourselves reminders
  2. Post-it notes
  3. The dreaded 'writing on hands*'
*Only writing only on your own hands is probably more sociably acceptable...

There are a multitude of tools to help with these note keeping: Evernote, Google Keep and GoodToDo (just to name a few commercial solutions).

What we need, however, after that note taking process, is a solid tool which we can sit down with and work with to form a solid business plan.

For a quick and easy resources for hard-copy free business templates, a few reliable sources include:

  • For the more visual planner 'FreeMind', is a free open source too for mind-mapping. It's possible to use this tool to plan your business visually, and even link to external resources such as financial reports, and market research findings. 
Here is a sample FreeMind business plan example, naturally, you will have to download and install FreeMind which is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux. 

Establish your business planning tools workflow

Use what works best for you- obviously. There's no point wasting time learning some fancy software if all you really need is a word processor, good old pen & paper, a whiteboard. Get rid of the procrastination gremlins and make life easier for yourself. Whatever the tool you use check that, for you, it's: 
  • Easy & quick to use
  • Free, preferably open source*
  • On-line or easily updated on the move
*We mention this because a lot of extensive business planning software markets itself as 'free', when if fact it's more 'free entry' where the next step is a upgrade from their inferior free offering. Start with something which is free from the onset, and you will not experience this misleading false dichotomy. 

The reality is the tools on the market today will try and take money off you before you even get started. 

'Enloop', for example will charge roughly £172.52 a year for their full-fledged on-line business planning tool, and 'Bplans' Business Plan Pro product costing £103.99. This is a tall order for a task which essentially involves putting your ideas on paper, assessing the risks, and attempting to gauge future business based on similar market behaviour. Some may argue the forecasting capabilities are unmatchable; read on for a free solution for that too.

By putting together the tools outlined above, FreeMind, and freely available business plan templates, it's quick and easy to make-your-own flexible business plan using these tools.

All that remains is a simply financial planning and accounting software for small business. For that, we recommend the GnuCash Accounting Software which we reviewed recently which also has a mobile app, allowing you to record your expenses when on the move with your mobile. 


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