I'm not generally a fan of marketing and business planning software. But when you have Palo Alto Software (still my favorite) and Duct Tape Marketing's John Jantsch collaborating on marketing plan software, how can any small business owner say "no"? Join me as I walk you through a review of MarketingPlan Pro Planning Software, powered by Duct Tape Marketing A Click-by-Click Tour of Marketing Plan Pro I found the software fairly straightforward to download from the Internet. Of course if you prefer actual physical product, you can order it and get a CD. My version of the downloadable software also came with an accompanying PDF book written by Tim Berry with a forward by Guy Kawasaki, on business planning. That alone should tell you that this is relatively BS-free. :) In the beginning you are greeted by John Jantsch and a quick product demo by Terry Eperle, Documentation Manager with Palo Alto. The whole thing takes only about 5 minutes and will get you warmed up for the task of writing your plan. But if you are a "dive right in" kind of person -- don't worry, the software is intuitive enough to get you going without the demo. Each section has a short introductory audio by John Jantsch. The audio is a real value because it mentally prepares you for writing each section. You don't have to listen to the introduction, but it helps, especially the first time around. This brings up my only small disappointment with the tool. If you want to hear the introductory "lecture," you have to stay on that page. When you click on next to start writing -- John stops talking! I was disappointed because I was getting lots of good ideas from John that I wanted to write down AS he was talking. The other issue I had with the introductory audio was that you cannot rewind or fast forward the recording; only play or pause. Product Details I click on the "next" button and imagine my surprise when I see several planning options -- a 30-minute plan, a basic plan and a standard detailed plan. As you would expect, each plan has different levels of detail included. The 30-minute plan is more of an overview, the Basic plan adds increased detail around specific marketing strategies such as web or referrals, and the Standard Plan is the detailed marketing plan you might pull together for a larger organization or marketing system. I decide to go for the 30 minute plan (a plan to get and keep all the customers I could handle, created in 30 minutes -- how can anyone say no to that?) I like the idea of getting some quick thoughts down and developing a basic strategy. By the way -- that's the default option (gotta love that). There is an easy 7-step multiple choice section that outlines how the plan will be set up. Once you're through the 7-steps, there are even examples that you can use to get you going. The financials are really not as scary as you might think. I usually dread the financial component of any marketing plan -- it seems really overwhelming -- especially since it forces you to think your strategy through month by month, dollar by dollar, unit by unit. I found it perfectly painless with Marketing Plan Pro. John's intro took the edge off and it was this very simple spreadsheet format that even I could fill out. Another financial section I really liked was called the "Gap Dashboard." I had never really seen that before in any marketing plan -- or if it was there, it wasn't as easy to understand. John and Tim Berry did an outstanding job making this REAL. The Gap Dashboard takes your business AND personal marketing objectives and lays them out in an easy spreadsheet program. The Gap Dashboard is your plan versus actual report. You fill out your plan, and then as your actual results pour in, you fill out the "real" numbers. Then it forces you to explain these actual results objectives verbally. This makes it easy for you to make adjustments to your marketing plan or strategy. The simple act of explaining forces you to process the information and make better decisions for the future. This is by far the most challenging section. My only issue with this was the lack of an intro by John. This is certainly a section many small business owners would want some more explanation on -- I did. I created a sample plan for a client to test out the system. While you can preview what you've written in the program itself, I choose to export the information into a word document. The 30-minute plan was about 7 pages of text. The complete report includes a table of contents and an appendix. You can pick and choose what you'd like to print and what order to print it in as well. Another plus for me -- although it may not be for you -- is that the format of the report is very plain. I liked this because I could use a report template of my choice and I did not have to re-format a style I did not like. Marketing Plan Pro also offers many helpful resources to help you actually implement the plan you're writing at Mplans.com. There are links to free market research sources such as Harvard Business Online, Values and Lifestyles Psychographics Segmentation. You can also find marketing calculators. Palo Alto has also formed partnerships with Logoworks.com for your logo and design work, Intuit's Homestead web site development resource, and PresentationPro for PowerPoint templates. So you will have no excuse for not getting started. Best Points Practical and easy to use -- This is not your corporate marketing plan. It is intuitive and uses your natural entrepreneurial thinking. This makes it very easy and quick to fill out. Has audio guides and examples -- I love that John Jantsch does these little introductions as audios -- it feels like he's coaching you through the process. There are also several examples for each section -- you can read, get inspired or just copy and edit to change later. Resources reduce the risk of procrastination -- Love the resources section! This will get you started on creating the business of your dreams. What They Could Have Done Better The software won't write your plan for you -- but it comes pretty close. You have to listen to the introductions -- there's no reading or writing ahead. On the other hand, there was NOT an audio instruction for the Gap Dashboard section, and I felt that many of us would have liked some additional explanation to complement the instructions that were provided. Who Should Get Marketing Plan Pro Marketing professionals for any size organization -- this is a great tool to get your thoughts and ideas out of your head or off of scraps of paper, into an outline. Small business owners and entrepreneurs creating their first real marketing plan, or looking for a painless way to create a plan. Independent consultants who help clients create plans and want a structure to follow. How to Get Your Hands On Marketing Plan Pro You can get Marketing Plan Pro online at the Palo Alto Software website, either via immediate download or have a CD shipped to you. You also will get a free copy of John Jantsch's Duct Tape Marketing book, as an added bonus. Use this special link provided courtesy of John Jantsch, and you get a $25 discount.