From startups to established corporations, business plans lay the framework for a company's vision and its financial future. Drafting a business plan is a crucial step in the growth of any business. For small businesses looking to take steps toward funding, creating a business plan can be a daunting task. The required accounting and financial data required alone could result in youa business owner spending all yourhis or her time crunching numbers instead of guiding and growing yourthe business.

Different types of business software and services can help solve this problem. By using a software to guide you through the writing process, or investing in a service tothat taps into its extensive research network to write your business plan for you, you can savespend your time and spend your effort on other aspects of your business.

Pricing

Business plan writing software will generally be less expensive than an actual business plan writing service. Software price is structured as either a monthly fee or a one-time price. LivePlan, for example, is primarily web-based and can be purchased for a monthly fee of $19.95. Business Plan Pro is a desktop program and can be purchased for $159.95. Business plan services' costs will vary based on the features your business needs. These companiesy generally charge a writing fee, and then added features cost extra. Go Business Plans, for example, charges $1,500 for plan writing and $150- to $300 for review.  

Negotiation Tips

The first big decision to consider is whether you want to draft your own plan or you outsource it to a third-party service. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, so consider the following when thinking about what's best for your business.

Time – Depending on how quickly you need your business plan, different services offer different turnaround times. This can range from 10 days to up to 6six weeks. The time it takes for revisions to be returned is important as well. Some companies can get them back within a week, while others can take up to two weeks. This can make creating your business plan a multi-week process. Business plan software puts your business plan in your own hands, so you are responsible for how long the writing process takes.  

Resources – Each writing service andor software offers different resources. If your business is young and in need of guidance, some writing services offer consulting and other options to help your business grow. If your plan needs extensive research on things like market conditions, software offers access to research materials, while writing services have access to different databases.

Depth of service – Software and services canmay offer features for creating your plan. Services, for example, offer rush jobs, printing, design services and even sample plans for you to review before deciding whether to hire the company. Software offers more research-oriented resources, like business tips, investor information and market analysis. While these features are usually built into business plan writing services as well, research-oriented software allows the business owneryou to review and adjust research on yourtheir own.

State of the Industry

The value of a business plan has been ais widely debated topic, as some companies have achieved success without laying out a firm framework laid out. Whether your business needs a business plan depends largely on your short-term goals as a company. For startups still finding their footing, it may be a bit too early to lay out a rigid plan that could end up constraining the company. If you're a business owner looking to map out your business's growth so you can secure investment, then you need a business plan. Data supports this, with statistics indicating that businesses with business plans are twice as likely to secure funding and subsequently grow their business. According to surveys, 64 percent of businesses that completed a plan experienced growth, while only 43 percent of businesses that didn't draft a plan experienced growth.

There are two main ways to build a business plan: either by using software or outsourcing to a plan writing service. Software is oriented to walk business owners through the plan writing process with setup wizards and questions about the business. In addition to word processing, business plan software includes powerful finance and accounting tools so you can crunch numbers quickly to create multi-year projections. This is a do-it-yourself business plan construction model.

Business plan writing services will, on the other hand, do all the heavy lifting for you. With turnaround times ranging from 10 days to a few weeks, services will review your company's data, conduct research and draft your plan. Once it's finished, there is usually a revision period where your company can review and propose edits to the plan.

Another perk of different types of business plan software and services is they provide extensive resources for your company to use as ityou drafts its your plan. Some services can source 16 different research databases in addition to conducting their own research to ensure that sections on the market and industry your business is entering are accurate. Others will provide independent consulting, edit an already existing plan and pair your business with experts to help you grow different areas of your business. These resources can be a big help with not only drafting a business plan, but also with establishing a company vision and framework.

Free Business Plan Templates

SCORE, a nonprofit association that helps foster startups by providing mentorship and planning tools, says that the value of completing a business plan is not the finished product, but rather the process.

"The act of planning helps you to think things through thoroughly, study and research if you are not sure of the facts, and look at your ideas critically. It takes time now, but avoids costly, perhaps disastrous, mistakes later," the introduction to SCORE's business template says.

Having a clear picture about the purpose of your business, its goals, and how it will operate is critical not only for your understanding of these issues, but more importantly to get potential lenders and investors to buy in.

Thankfully, you don't have to go to business school—or hire someone who did—to create a business plan. You can download a free business plan template and customize it to your needs.

Where to Find Free Business Plan Templates

1. SCORE

The nonprofit business mentorship program offers free templates for both startup and established businesses, as well as planning tools for nonprofits. Their startup business plan is made up of a narrative along with financial worksheets. The template includes over 150 questions to establish the body of your business plan and can be answered in any order. The executive summary, however, should be completed last. The goal of this completed template is to provide you with a fluid narrative.

2. BPlans.com 

This site offers a free, basic template to download. The BPlan free template offers an organized guideline to creating your business plan and takes you though the steps to get your business plan "investor-ready and SBA-approved."  If that's not in-depth enough for you, then you can buy their Business Plan Pro software or use LivePlan, an online business plan creator with built-in formulas for financial planning, videos from experts and the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues. 

3. Office.com 

The Microsoft Office site offers a gallery of templates, including business plan checklists, financials, presentations and marketing. These templates are useful if you want a specific template, rather than a general business plan. In addition, there is a PPT for business presentations for when you are ready to showcase your business to potential investors.

 4. Free-Plan

Offers a comprehensive Word-based document that contains a detailed framework for building your business plan, including sample text, tables and charts, as well as a manual with section-by-section assistance. Free-Plan is ideal for new and established businesses looking to expand and in need of a business plan for internal or external use. Their micro-plan is designed for startups and very small businesses.

5. U.S. Small Business Administration

This site allows you to fill out a template online, with instructions on what to include in each section. Next to each category, tips and examples are provided as an additional resource. After completing the template, you can generate your business plan and save it to your computer as a Word document.

6. VFinance.com

VFinance is a publicly traded company that uses their own personal knowledge of investment knowledge in creating a business plan template. With this site you can download a free business plan template targeted to your industry, plus you'll get $75 toward three months of professional posting of your plan for potential investors to view. 

7. BizGym.com

This online business planner allows you to fill out a template on the site section by section, tracks your progress on the plan, and allows you to share the plan once its completed. BizGym's recent update offers a collaborative platform with multiple pricing options, including a free "Inventor" plan. Through this application you can access resources such as a deck builder, budget builder and pivot plan.

Tips

Write your executive summary last, after you've done the work of researching and thinking about your business.

Explain the fundamentals of your business in two pages or less. Make it enthusiastic, professional, complete and concise, advises SCORE.

If a section of the template doesn't apply to your business, don't worry about filling it out.

If you're having trouble filling out your template or have questions about creating a business plan, SCORE has mentors that can give you free advice in person or via e-mail. Or, look for feedback and advice from groups like the Small Business Network  on LinkedIn.

As evidenced above, there are plenty of options for free business templates, so don't feel like you need to pay for one, unless you can't find a template that thoroughly addresses your needs. Software like Business Plan Pro or Plan Write Business Plannercan provide you with further customization and assistance.

In addition to completing a business plan checklist, look for a due diligence checklist from potential lenders or investors to make sure you have a better understanding of the types of information they need.

Many sites, including Bplans.com, Entrepreneuer.com and toolkit.com, offer free samples of business plans categorized by the type of company for you study before starting your own.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, a good business plan is a living document that should be reviewed and updated regularly.

Before getting bogged down in the details of business planning, make sure you have a clear vision and set of values for your company. This creates a road map for you to follow in the rest of your planning.