Most people who start a business know that they need a business plan – a guide to starting and managing the business to ensure success. Business plans detail all the elements that go into building the business so they are a crucial way to get off on the right foot.
While the reality of your business will often force changes in your business plan, there are still numerous errors made during this planning stage that can irreparably harm your business and ensure you have a much tougher time than usual getting going. Surprisingly, some of them are very common. Here are five quick tips for mistakes to avoid when writing your business plan.
Writing a business plan can feel like a daunting process, and making mistakes is part of the package, even if you follow the online guides and templates. To make this process simpler, we have made a short list of common errors that somehow keep creeping into these vital documents.
Making it too long
As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once said, “You know the business plan won’t survive its first encounters with reality. It will always be different. The reality will never be the plan.” He did, however then go on to stress that writing a business plan is essential to understanding what will make your business tick. It’s important to realise that your business plan will never be able to cover every contingency and every possible incident that can occur and should rather be focused on revealing the core business. Once you understand your core business implicitly, you will be able to write it down in a much more succinct fashion. A long business plan is therefore only evidence that you don’t yet understand what’s going on.
Understand your target market
No product is for everyone. Understanding who you are selling to and what will motivate them to buy is the first thing any investor will look for, and the most fundamental thing you will need to understand to be successful. It will shape who you hire, what your marketing looks like, and even what your startup’s logo will be. Simply believing you will market to everyone is putting your business on the path to failure.
It is extremely common for companies to exclude business competitors from their business plan. Many believe that their new product is so superior, cheap or well-supported that competitors won’t stand a chance once it is marketed correctly, or simply don’t have as much understanding of the market they are entering as they think they do. Having a sound, realistic competitor analysis shows investors you understand the market and know where your unique differentiators lie.
Neglecting a financial forecast
Many business plans ignore financial forecasts as they either don’t have the experience necessary or don’t believe they are important – of what use is guessing things that don’t exist? The truth is that a good financial planner or accountant should be able to help with these forecasts which need to include profit and loss, but also, essentially, cash flow and balance sheet. This area of the business plan will reveal to potential investors whether your plan has been carefully thought out, and takes realistic rates of growth into account, or whether it’s simply pie in the sky. No investor is going to work with someone who believes they will sell a million items in the first three months.
Being too strict
The business plan should always be viewed as a guide and not as a set of hard and fast rules. Any business plan that locks a business into a specific course of action is a bad one. You should always have the ability to pivot and make changes as necessary based on the latest feedback. Your ability to research new information and change direction will make it much more likely that your business will meet its long-term goals and needs.