Despite having a flair for thinking off the cuff, I know the value of a good business plan. Here's how to prepare to succeed.

This article appears in the May 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents.

Anyone who's setting up or running a small business will know that keeping on top of daily tasks takes up at least 27 hours a day.

Planning for the future, identifying goals and monitoring weaknesses can easily be left on the sidelines.

But failing to take a look at where your business is going and think about where you want it to go could pave the way to failure.

While it's essential to keep everyday jobs ticking over, taking time out to create a watertight business plan could make the difference between sinking and swimming. There's a raft of products designed to do this job for you.

Here we look at how one dedicated product, Business Plan Pro 2007 from Palo Alto, can help you create a simple plan for a startup business. It can also create much more complex plans for companies that need to take stock and prepare for the future.

The aim here is to get you to take a long hard look at your business, both in terms of what you are trying to achieve in terms of sales, growth, profit and so on, and also setting a realistic budget.

It's easy to overspend in all the enthusiasm of living your dream, but if you fall into this trap it can quickly turn into a nightmare.

It's the sort of dull-but-necessary mantra that PC Advisor is always counselling about backing up. It is a great discipline and you shouldn't wait for a terminal crash before saving your vital data.

Creating a business plan helps to protect you against losing money and time by assisting you in your battle to keep control of your business both in terms of direction and financial information.

So in essence creating a watertight business plan, just like backing up essential data, is really just good housekeeping.