I always think you should go back to first principles when contemplating creating a business plan and think what is the purpose of it – and then decide whether you need an IT tool. In my experience – thirty years of creating business plans and business cases (and often these are muddled up) – far too much effort is devoted to creating the document, and far too little understanding the business, and even less understanding the purpose of the document or documents. I’ve also found the use of IT tools to be a displacement activity – you know the type of experience where you have to do your expenses and you’ve let them go on too long, you don’t want to start them, so instead you tidy your desk, tidy your desk drawer, and then make a cup of coffee – anything rather than start. Finding the right tool, after you’ve got the equivalent of Word and Excel, is rather pointless.

The objective of a business plan is to change someone’s mind from at best indifference and at worst disbelief in what you are trying to do. You need to change that person’s mind because you want them to invest in your business – whether that is time, effort, or money. So everything should be geared up around that objective. You need therefore to understand your audience – and don’t forget, as I have found on some occasions that the audience might be yourself, and the document is part of convincing you to get on with the development of the idea you have had for the business. Once you know what your audience is, you can tailor your persuasive arguments to make sure that you do your best to change their minds and support you.

Sometimes people confuse this with telling lies, being over-optimistic or disguising what is really going on. That is the least persuasive argument you could create. I spend some time on my books on creating a business plan and a business case illustrating why being pessimistic about your likely revenues and similarly pessimistic about how large your costs will be is actually far more influential than creating a utopia. (One business case I saw, and savaged, had a rather common feature which is that year 0, year 1 and year 2 showed limited revenue and acceptable but not realistic costs, if you can see the difference, and then year 3 showed an exponential growth spurt. Believe me, this is never believed and is totally self-defeating.)

Follow a template in creating the documents – my books contain one but there are plenty available for free on the web – and there is no substitute for the research into pricing, competition, size of the market, hurdles to market, likely time scales among other things. Create your document, test how effective it is on your chosen audience, but don’t imagine that an IT tool will somehow magically do anything other than absorb time which you should be using on your business, as well as in your business.