I never thought these words would ever come out of my mouth but here they are — Business planning is fun. Before you go checking to make sure I haven’t been taken over by mad marketing consultants, you’ll have to check out my latest find — LivePlan. LivePlan comes to us from Palo Alto software any my friend and colleague?Tim Berry. I have to reveal something here — I owe a lot of my career and sanity to Tim and Palo Alto because they’ve made me look smart and capable for over 20 years with their business planning and marketing software. I still remember seeing, buying and receiving my first Palo Alto planning software that came on one of those 3.5 floppy disks and how excited I was about the clarity and structure that it would bring to my market planning project — and it did.

I’m not going to get on a gushing spree here about why I like Palo Alto – I’ll just say that what I like about their products is that they are always putting themselves in my shoes. They don’t delude themselves about the fact that small business owners look forward to business planning about as much as a root canal. Then they sit down and try to understand why that is so. Once they’ve uncovered the list of obstacles that we all face – they get down to the business of overcoming them.

I’ve already purchased and own the Market Plan Pro product that Tim did with John Jantsch — and it’s wonderful. But I digress. Let’s get back to what makes LivePlan make me actually enjoy business planning.

6 Reasons LivePlan Will Make You Actually Look Forward to Writing a Business Plan

We’ve all heard the statistics that say that the reason most small businesses fail is because they don’t have a plan. I also heard another statistic that said that the biggest predictor of”profitability”was having profit as a goal and then planning your business around reaching that goal. LivePlan can help you do all of these things. After experiencing the demo from the Palo Alto LivePlan team – here are 6 things that jumped out at me that actually made me look forward to writing a business plan:

  1. It’s web-based.? I prefer web based products for a million reasons, the biggest is that it’s always accessible and always up to date. This is not true for LivePlan.
  2. Collaborative.? Being a social creature with team members all over the globe — I LOVE LOVE LOVE this feature. I mean, you don’t have to be the only one “suffering” through the planning process. Get everyone involved and let them contribute their data, their content and their opinions on the plan. The best business planning process I’ve ever done was more of a game with teams than a planning process and LivePlan let’s you do just that.
  3. There’s an outline to follow.? The reason I bought my first Palo Alto product was for the outline. They didn’t complicate it – they just laid it out. What makes LivePlan’s outline so nice is that it’s easily adjustable to meet your company or industry needs.
  4. You are guided.? MarketingPlanPro introduced this guided feature and LivePlan improved on it. Writing a business plan can be daunting and LivePlan holds your hand and walks you through it. Actually Tim Berry walks you through it using this terrific videos. So you can write your own copy using written examples as a guide and watch Tim’s video for support. I just love that.
  5. Amazing layouts the print beautifully.? I generally thing that forecasting is hard enough without having to create charts and tables. LivePlan gives you the ability to FOCUS on your forecast and leave the charts and table layouts to them. Just answer the questions and don’t worry about the rest.
  6. Tracks your progress. It’s called LivePlan for a reason – because it’s ALIVE. The biggest reason businesses fail is because they fail to plan. Then if they DO plan – they fail to follow the plan and report on their progress and then make changes when necessary. LivePlan avoids all this because it allows you to go inside the plan and then enter your actual results and then lets you compare those results with your planned forecast.

How much is it?

The LivePlan platform is really affordable – I mean it’s got enterprise function for a small business price — $19.95/month for 2 users and 3 plans. Each user over the first two is an extra $9.95 per month for up to five additional users. After that, you can get a custom price from LivePlan. Another interesting twist is that it’s a month to month commitment AND if you decide to drop your plan or discontinue the service — they will keep your data and store it until you’re ready to come back. This is a great feature and shows hoe much they’ve thought about the realities of small business life.

What’s missing?

There are a couple of small details that are still missing and in development; inserting pictures is one as well as adding hyperlinks. But these little tweaks are by no means show stoppers. None of these details are going to stop you from starting your business planning process today and being ready to launch a new plan for 2013.

Overall, I’d say the LivePlan is a terrific tool for small business and would encourage anyone to sign up and start planning their 2013 today.