- The Washington Times - Monday, November 12, 2001

The estimates are that there are 25 million small businesses in the United States, and new ones pop up every morning. Even with the Federal Reserve slicing interest rates to levels not seen in decades, and with an economy jolted by the events of September 11, many people feel an entrepreneurial itch that they want to scratch.

But how does one best begin a new business? With a detailed plan "God is in the details," the architect Mies van de Roh once said that reflects the nature of your business and what you need to make it work.

That's easily said, of course. Doing it, and doing it right, is the hard part. That's where Tim Berry would like to step in. A former Business Week correspondent and Stanford University MBA-holder, Mr. Berry helped draw up the original business plan for software maker Borland International. As a co-founder of the firm and a director, he saw what Borland founder and CEO Philippe Kahn did with that plan: totally ignore it.

Now Mr. Kahn was and is a genius in the technology business, and Mr. Berry will be the first to concede that Mr. Kahn's instincts were right. But as a consultant to Borland, as well as to Apple Computer and other firms, Mr. Berry saw the importance of getting an entrepreneur to "buy in" to the mechanics of the plan, which is more difficult if that newly minted business owner just gets a sheaf of paper on their desk.

"The problem I had was, as a consultant I didn't want to just do a business plan and get paid," Mr. Berry told me the other day. "I wanted to do a business plan that my clients were going to implement. And for that, it had to be their plan, not my plan. If you're talking about starting a small business, if it's your consultant's plan, you're not going to live with it, you're not going to suffer with it and it's not going to do you much good."

From that has come Business Plan Pro 2002, the latest version of a program Mr. Berry and his firm, Palo Alto Software, has been selling for a number of years. It automates much of the work of creating a business plan, and offers some 200 different sample plans for you to consult and adapt to your own needs.

The kicker in all of this is that the software costs just under $100. Hiring a consultant to write a business plan can cost many times that. And, the software, which has the benefit of Mr. Berry's experience and the experiences of about 500,000 users of the program so far will lead people to examine things they may not otherwise.

"You think that if you sell things for more than what you spend in costs, you'll be fine," Mr. Berry explains. "But most businesses that sell to other businesses don't get paid when they make a sale, they get they money 30, 40, 60 or 90 days later. If you don't plan for that, you can be profitable and bounce checks and go out of business. That's the kind of business mechanics our software can help with."

Mr. Berry says software can help users find the right way to express their concepts so others can understand them: "You need both. Your business plan would be as incomplete with just numbers as it would be with just words, because we're talking about describing a business and what it plans to do, and this content can't be adequately described without both words and numbers, which is why I love business planning."

The program also includes what Mr. Berry calls "standard financials for a couple of thousand different businesses. We don't do your numbers, but we say here are the average numbers for a barber shop, video store, etc., such as the gross margins."

That kind of information could be invaluable in figuring out whether that idea for a "Tofu Taffy" shop in Ocean City, is really a good notion or not. And for under $100, the price of the program is certainly right. The software can be found at www.paloalto.com, as well as in stores including Staples and Office Depot, Mr. Berry says.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark on www.adrenalineradio.com every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern Time.


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