Software review: Business PlanMaker Professional

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, there are more business plan templates, lists of suggested business plan content, and samples out there on the net than you can shake a stick at. There also both free on-line (commonly offered by banks in case you’re seeking a loan) and paid commercial software products intended to help you develop a business or marketing plan.

Business PlanMaker Professional Deluxe

In this post we look at one such commercial offering called “Business PlanMaker Professional”. We’ll call it BPM for short. In case you don’t get the hint, the package also has the word “Deluxe” on it. The vendor, Individual Software Inc., claims that BPM is the number 1 best-selling business plan software for under $50.

We purchased it at our local Staples store for $49.99, indeed under $50.00. For some unknown reason, the copy of Version 9 we bought must have been old stock. At the time we wrote this post, Version 12 was offered on the vendor’s web site at

UPDATE: The price has since been reduced to USD 29.99 online.

In any case, the differences described on the manufacturer’s web site for later versions appear to be tweaks rather than a major redesign, so we believe that most of what we say here will still be relevant. If not, our apologies to Individual Software and we hereby offer to correct any factual errors.

I’ve purchased half-a-dozen of these planning software products over the years, and BPM is very typical of how they work. However, most of its competitors are priced from $100 to $250, so you have to expect that BPM is an entry-level product. In my opinion, it is a low-end product with serious limitations.

Excessive claims? You decide.

The claims made on the box are, in my opinion, a little over the top. Among over things, BMP will “ensure financial success”, “beat the competition”, “achieve your goals”, and “receive funding”. Full points for benefit-oriented copywriting! OF course, no vendor can guarantee these outcomes.

How it works

The software uses a series of wizards that prompt you to enter information about your company, income, expenses, etc. This process tries to replicate the face-to-face meetings that a management consultant would use to learn about your goals and your business concept.

Here’s what a typical editing screen looks like.

BPM user interface


You can click on the tabs across the top to move from wizard to wizard. An outline of the business plan down the left side lets you navigate from section to section. The large window at the bottom is where you edit the text of your business plan. Above it is a window that provides explanations and hints.

A handy feature included in BPM is the ability to re-order, delete and add new sections to the outline. A Table of Contents is automatically generated based on the outline.

When you’re done working on your plan, the software creates a nicely formatted version for printing. You can also save it as a Word or PDF file. A “review” feature checks for conflicting numerical data and incomplete sections, meaning blank sections and charts.

These features are all pretty typical, and contribute the bulk of the value of using this type of product. Marketing and business plans are long and complex documents, so being able to quickly jump between sections — and having charts and tables automatically generated from your input data — can save lots of time.

Want help with financials? Hmmm.

One of the main reasons that people buy this type of product is that they think it will let them develop pro forma financial statements without requiring help from an accountant. This is true only to an extent.

In this release of BPM, you can only use up to twenty line items for expenses, and you have to define them yourself. The software explains that this is so that the income statement will fit on a single page when the plan is printed. I can appreciate that; however, if you can create an income statement from scratch that meets GAAP or IFRS accounting standards (we use IFRS in Canada), you probably don’t need a software wizard to help.

Other more powerful software products include budgeting tools that roll your various estimates into a summarized income statement. Some even let you track your actuals, and compare them to budget.

A few other limitations

As to be expected, BPM has some other limitations that more powerful products don’t.

For example, you can’t add to the spell checker. Since every industry has its own jargon, you may get tired of clicking “Ignore”.

And the automatically-generated cover page is quite plain and can’t be edited. Too bad, because your cover page helps you make a good first impression with readers.

BPM seems to target those focused on finding investors. Just like resumes and cover letters, a one-size-fits-all business plan format doesn’t work for all audiences: you need to tailor them for investors, lenders, recruiting, and internal purposes.  

General issues with business planning software

However, I find that all business and marketing plan development software products seem to suffer from some widespread issues.

First and foremost, if someone doesn’t play the violin and you give them a Stradivarius, it won’t turn them into a concert violinist. This type of software can’t produce a high-quality business plan if the person using it doesn’t know how to plan a business.

Filling in the blanks just isn’t enough

These types of software products feature dozens of standard and optional section headings, charts and diagrams. This implies that following a fill-in-the-blanks approach is enough to get the job done.

In reality, you need to set goals, do your research, anticipate and mitigate challenges, and think through your business thoroughly. The software doesn’t help with these tasks.  

And you have to know which blanks to fill in

You probably don’t need all of these sections and forms. Some are less relevant for some types of businesses than others.

Every management consultant I’ve worked with has his or her own client interview processes and business plan templates that they developed over time. Naturally, some are better than others, and probably none are perfect for every business. My own marketing plan template is based on the American Marketing Association’s model.  

It is likely that many of the sections, headings and charts in the software are irrelevant for your purposes. But if you’re just filling in the blanks, how do you know which ones you can safely ignore, or if some vital information will be missed?

If you complete every section and chart that’s included in the software, you’ll waste loads of time on unnecessary content that clutters up your plan. While business plans often run to a hundred pages or more with multiple appendices, there’s a school of thought that the ideal business plan length is a dozen pages or less. You can always give potential investors more detail later if they’re interested in the opportunity.

Crummy sample plans really aren’t useful

Another major selling feature is the inclusion of dozens of sample business plans. But as one of BPM’s competitors points out, if you developed a winning business plan, would you post it on the Internet? Or allow a software vendor to distribute it with their software? As a result, the quality of the sample plans is pretty questionable.

I looked at two examples from the library included with BPM and, in my opinion, both were pretty dodgy. I suspect one was written by a student as a class assignment. It rambles on for 50 pages with quite a lot of background data of little applicability. In the end, there isn’t much substance — no concrete business strategy, vague descriptions of the proposed offerings, no competitive scan or comparison, no sources for data, and the inevitable conclusion that: “we’ll capture significant market share within three years because we’re better than everyone else”. That’s not an example you want to follow!

So, do these types of product have any value?

Sure they do.

Using business-planning software is a fast way to document a business concept after you have thought it through. The software should allow you to focus on the writing while it take cares of the formatting.

Some people find it useful to use business-planning software to capture and organize information during their planning process. And drafts are handy for discussion.

Although business-planning software products produce nicely-formatted documents, you can also export your plan to Word and put on the finishing touches. Personally, I’ve never been able to complete an entire plan without using additional software such as Word, although the more sophisticated the business planning software, the less need for additional software. At minimum, I use Word to make a fancy cover page with a title, logos, and contact information, and PDF editing software to merge together files for the appendices.

But frankly, these products are probably most beneficial to consultants who use them regularly to improve their productivity; someone who uses the same software regularly learns it inside out. If you’re an entrepreneur writing just one business plan, you have enough work to do to produce a well-thought-out business plan; learning how to use a marginally-useful product like Business PlanMaker Professional — and figuring out how to overcome its limitations — just adds to your burden.

About Market Metrics

Market Metrics Inc. helps knowledge-based businesses with strategy, planning and innovation. We offer our clients a unique combination of top-shelf professional skills, competitive pricing, and real-world industry experience in business planning, marketing, and technology.

The consultancy was founded in 2003 by Greg Graham, a seasoned strategic marketing professional. Greg is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC), a Fellow of the Ontario Institute of Management Consultants (FCMC), and an Accredited Small Business Consultant (ASMEC) in the United States. He holds MBA/BEE degrees plus a Certificate in Strategic Management.

Prior to founding Market Metrics, Greg's 21 years of corporate experience encompassed tech start-ups through Fortune 500 companies. He is an expert in subscription-based business models (including SaaS). Greg frequently performs consulting engagements on behalf of the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP).


3 Responses to “Software review: Business PlanMaker Professional”
  1. Free says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about management. Regards

  2. Alfredo Cole Tuckler says:

    I have also purchased version 12, and I must add to your comments. It is really not worth the money nor the time required to figure out why it does not work. The time wasted would be better used talking to someone who knows how to prepare financial projections, or better yet, hire an accountant. I ended up using a spreadsheet to prepare financial statements.

  3. Greg Graham says:

    Hi Alfredo;

    Thanks for your comments. Yup, I also found this particular software to be pretty useless for preparing financials.

    There is much better business planning software out there, but even the best requires expertise to use and a significant investment of time to learn how to get real benefit from it. As a consultant, I can’t imagine my clients using this software themselves and getting a good result. After using business planning software regularly for the last decade, I’ve learned how to go past the basics and handle complex situations (especially for existing businesses that already have loans, investors, long-term assets, dividends, corporate taxes, etc.), but for an entrepreneur, it is questionable if it is worth the effort of DIY.

    Thank you again for your post. All the best, Greg.