Free Online Templates: Approach with Caution
The main convenience of free templates is that they provide a format in which users can input their information. What they don’t do is provide the actual information pertinent to your small business. You’ll still have to perform the heavy lifting associated with completing the form. No template can make up for deficiencies in the information you supply.
In addition, because these forms are standardized, they are also generic. Templates that are in Word, Excel or Power Point formats can be adapted to deal with specifics that pertain to your business. However, PDF forms cannot be readily modified without specialized software to convert them into Word or other formats that can modified. Forms that deal with subjects such as termination or government contracts often involve language that may or may not be legally valid for your particular jurisdiction.
Sources for Free Templates
Many free templates are provided by companies offering other items for sale. The hope is that once you’ve used one or more of the free templates provided, that you’ll be motivated to try a paid service. That’s totally legitimate, and many of the templates are quite good. The list below represents some of the best sources for free business templates available as of February 2017.
- Small Business Administration: The SBA website features a “build your business plan” online template that allows users to save their work in PDF form and update their plans as their businesses change. Users must register to use the site.
- The $100 Startup: This joint venture between the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times features a handful of free templates, including a one-page business plan and a one-page promotion plan. These simplified templates can be downloaded as PDF documents. Discounts of 50% for InMotion website services are also available.
- Entrepreneur: This business publication and portal features several templates, including business plans, invoices and even legal-oriented forms such as cease-and-desist orders. Templates are available as PDF, Excel and PowerPoint downloads.
- Law Depot: This online step-by-step business plan template can be printed or downloaded to your computer and allows limited customization based on business type.
- Invoice Berry: This invoicing company offers free downloadable business plan templates in a variety of formats: Word, PowerPoint, Open Office and Excel. Template users are also eligible for an extended free trial of the company’s invoicing software.
- My Own Business Institute: This online portal operated by Santa Clara University provides no-cost online business courses along with a downloadable business plan template in the MOBI format.
- Rocket Lawyer: This online portal provides a free business plan “questionnaire” that allows users to construct a business plan. Users begin the process by selecting the state where the business is or will be located.
- SCORE: This website features a downloadable Word business plan template specifically geared toward entrepreneurs and small business owners just starting out.
- Microsoft Office: Templates and forms in Word, Power Point and Excel formats are available to download. These templates are compatible with computers running both Windows and Mac operating software systems.
- Stock Layouts: This website offers a limited selection of free downloadable templates in Word format along with a larger selection of its own paid products.
- Avery: This website offers a broad selection of templates for business and personal use, including templates for file folders, shipping labels and business cards. There are also templates especially designed for Mac users.
- Office Depot/Office Max: The website for this office supply store features an extensive selection of downloadable templates in RTF (rich text) format including business plan formats but also recruiting, marketing and government contractor forms.
Any one of the templates listed above will allow you to save time and effort by eliminating the need to create an entire document from scratch. However, free templates should be considered as software rather than as services. You’ll still need to consult with a professional to deal with specific finance-related, legal or other questions.
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