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The slew of initial ideas hastily scribbled on napkins or perhaps simply forgotten entirely.

Many great businesses started with these same events, but millions more never got beyond them.

In all of these cases, the business owner has to do something that can be scary: become a business document management expert by creating a structured document (that is, a business plan) with lots of numbers and compelling prose, with the awareness that this pitch is make-or-break for the company's vision. It's hard to express your product's unique selling points, analyze competitors' strengths and weaknesses, and back up your assertions about why you need this much money. In my pre-journalistic life, I wrote two in-depth business plans.

One plan taught me that I didn't have what it took to pull off that project and the other plan got my startup business accepted by a VC conference.

Business plans are more than just the paperwork you need to fill out for funding.

A good business plan helps you identify your mission, your value proposition, and can keep your organization running smoothly.

You might claim that the Jewish deli you propose to open in Asheville, North Carolina will turn a profit in three years, but the market data suggests five years is typical.

This data helps you back up your assertions before a banker can raise an eyebrow.

Software with "follow the bouncing ball" instructions for business plans can serve the same role as online accounting services because, in each case, you rely on specialists to walk you through the process.

These solutions may prompt you to respond to issues that you might not have thought to address. Do the Numbers Ultimately, a business plan shows how your company will make money.

Even the simplest plan needs to include financial reports such as charts for profit-and-loss, balance sheets, and month-by-month and yearly projections. Context and Analysis Some business plan software solutions (such as Equity Net and Editors' Choice Palo Alto Software Live Plan) help you compare your numbers to others in your industry, including regions and company size.

We test 10 business plan creation tools that help you build and track your organization's future.

Many of us have been there: That sudden epiphany in the shower or at a bar chatting with friends.

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