Monday, October 6, 2014

A Planning Tool to Help Start-Ups, Before They Start


In June, the company launched the
 Startup Financial Planner, a financial planning tool that integrates Intuit’s small-business data and is designed to help entrepreneurs calculate the cost of starting and running a business. Intuit is well known for QuickBooks, its small-business accounting software, which has 1.4 million users. Those users have helped Intuit amass an enormous amount of financial data about the costs of starting and running a business.
The planner was developed for Intuit by DigitalRelevance, a content marketing firm in Indianapolis. Users access the tool from the QuickBooks website and follow the prompts to describe the kind of business they want to build or currently have, including the location and legal structure of the business. The program then takes entrepreneurs through a series of questions about their business and a wide variety of potential expenses. They can either use the auto fill answers from Intuit or overwrite the space and fill in their own answers.
Jenny Brown, a content strategist at DigitalRelevance, said the goal was to provide a very solid estimate of the total costs to start and run a business. “The tool basically thinks of all the costs an aspiring entrepreneur may not have anticipated,” she said.
The user enters all the requested information and receives a downloadable financial analysis, including first-year expenses, a projected break-even analysis (including in what month the start-up can expect to break even), business trend comparisons and licensing and permit needs. While entering information, entrepreneurs can learn more about the topics being covered by clicking on related articles and infographics — reviewing, for instance, the pros and cons of various corporate structures.
The business trend comparison data, Ms. Brown said, can be especially useful to a start-up: “After you have your financial estimates, it will show you by category how your estimates compare to actual businesses that meet the same criteria as yours, like your location, legal structure, number of employees, etc.” Users can see, for example, how the amount of money they have allocated toward advertising, payroll, rent or travel compares to what the average business of their size and in their category has spent.
The Startup Financial Planner is free and users are anonymous to Intuit, said John Schulenburg, who heads search engine optimization and content marketing for Intuit’s small-business group. Users don’t have to provide an email and can get an identification number that will allow them to stop, save their work and return at another time to finish.
More than 3,000 people have used the tool thus far and Mr. Schulenburg said Intuit planned to create more tools that can be used at various points throughout the life cycle of a small business. Intuit isn’t looking to make money on them, he said, its part of a desire to rebrand QuickBooks as more than just accounting software. “We want to connect with customers and prospects around everything that relates to their small-business life cycle,” Mr. Schulenburg said.
Using the Startup Financial Planner does take some time. Depending on how knowledgeable users are and how much information they have to input, completing the questions can take a few hours. That may sound exhausting or intimidating, but it may save entrepreneurs considerable anguish in the long run. “It’s better for them to feel some pain at that point, when they are trying to get their heads around the planning and the process,” Ms. Brown said, rather than after they have already taken the plunge.