5 Things That Can Make Your Business Plan Fail — & How to Avoid Them

If you don't believe in your business, how can anybody else?

Creating a business plan is an essential step in getting a new company off the ground. Writing this document helps founders not only evaluate their goals, but also communicate them to other people, especially investors. A good business plan can be the difference between funding your dreams on business credit cards and personal savings or getting support from a financial institute or business partner. Unfortunately, many business plans fail in this aim. Understanding common pitfalls and how to avoid them ensures you get the backing you need to develop your business idea.

Here are 5 things that can make your business plain fail — and how to avoid them.

1. Failing to Define What Your Specialty Is

Thousands of startups and small businesses pitch their business plans, and it’s important to stand out in the crowd to improve your chances of securing an investment. An effective way to do this is by clearly defining what makes your company unique, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. This requires being clear about what your company offers in terms of products, services, unique skill sets, and experience. For example, if you’re starting a new restaurant, do you cater to specific types of clients, or do you have a renowned chef in the kitchen? When you can identify a niche in which you excel, you improve your chances of success.

2. Omitting Vital Information

The process of writing a business plan is as important as the plan itself, according to SCORE, a nonprofit association that works in partnership with the SBA to provide free services and advice for entrepreneurs. Writing the plan encourages you to think about your business in a systematic way. The SBA recommends covering the following areas:

  • An executive summary to give an overview of your plan
  • A company description, including what makes your business unique
  • Market analysis to show you’ve researched the industry and your competitors
  • Details of your business and management structure
  • Details on what products and services you provide
  • Marketing and sales strategies
  • A funding request, with financial projections to support that request and an explanation of how these figures impact the business

3. Insufficient Understanding of Finances

Investors need to feel confident their money is in the hands of someone who understands the world of business and finance, and not just their particular line of work. If you don’t understand terms such as APR or lack a thorough grasp of sales figures, potential investors will balk no matter how good the business idea is. Solid business plans include significant research and budgeting and cover sales strategies, contingency plans for additional funding, and firm details on how much it costs to start the business and keep it running. Any funding requests need to be backed up with detailed financial projections to help investors understand the sources from which the return on investment will come, and a clear definition of how long that will take.

4. Failing to Maintain a Living Document

A business plan projects three to five years ahead and acts like a roadmap that defines a company’s growth and development. Creating the document is an important first step for a startup, but once the business is established, the plan becomes no less important. The plan can help generate extra funding, develop new business arrangements with other companies, take on high-level employees, or identify and rectify inefficiencies in your company structure.

That’s why it’s necessary to make changes to the plan by creating new goals or correcting mistakes. A truly valuable plan evolves along with the company, according to Harvard Business Review. Making changes when necessary keeps the plan alive and helps to drive the business forward.

5. Lack of Determination

If you want someone to invest in your idea, it’s important to invest in it, too. Giving up the first time a pitch falls on deaf ears doesn’t lead to new opportunities. If an investor refuses to get on board, it’s a good idea to ask them exactly why and then use that information to your advantage in a subsequent pitch. That kind of input can be invaluable to achieving your business goals.

Remember, most business credit cards require a personal guarantee, which can affect your personal credit. You can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com.

Image: Cecilie_Arcurs

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7 Essential Apps for Small Business Owners

Here are seven apps that can help entrepreneurs focus on running their business and less on the tools they’re using to do it

Chances are, if you ask a business owner or other entrepreneur what apps they rely on to help them stay on top of things you’ll get a response like this: “Apps? I don’t know. I’m too busy running a business to worry about apps” or “Hahahahaha! I’m not on top of things!”

Those are real responses from some highly entrepreneurial business owners to whom I posed the question. And, when you stop and think about it, their responses make sense. After all, most entrepreneurs aren’t going to mention that cup of coffee, their email or their phone as essentials to their daily work because they’re just so much a part of their day-to-day. Like oxygen or sunlight, you only really think about them when they’re suddenly unavailable.

The same holds true for genuinely helpful apps. They become fully ingrained into the user’s daily work and even personal lives. We looked across the spectrum at apps that help users communicate, organize their days, be more productive, keep their data and communications secure, and even help them learn.

The following are seven apps we think can truly help entrepreneurs focus more attention on running their business and less on the tools they’re using to do it.

1. KanbanFlow by CodeKick AB

Platforms: Android and iOS

Price: Free Basic version, $5/user/month Premium version

If you need to manage projects, KanbanFlow can help you do it. This web-based app lets users see the entire workflow, from assigning tasks to uploading documents and scheduling due dates. The Premium version allows for file attachments, revision history and even the ability to analyze your work history.

2. ColorNote by Social & Mobile

Platforms: Android, iOS and Windows

Price: Free

This app essentially functions like digital Post-It notes. It allows you to create text notes, checklists, to-do lists, etc., and you can check off items as you complete them. The notes can also be color-coded to keep them organized, and you can even name the color groups. The notes can be added to your calendar and even be shared.

3. Evernote

Platforms: Android and iOS

Price: Free with in-app purchase options

It’s like a notebook for your inner creative, allowing you to capture ideas based on pictures, drawings or writing, create project to-do lists around those ideas and also share them across devices and with others.

4. Duolingo

Platforms: Android, iOS and Windows

Price: Free

If you’re an entrepreneur who wants to take your business global (or at least into another country), learning a new language while trying to do it might seem daunting. But Duolingo aims to help you learn a new language in your down time, like on your commute, while exercising, or even while relaxing.

5. CamScanner by INTSIG

Platforms: Android and iOS

Price: Free with in-app purchase options

This app turns your device into a scanner and also allows you to access, edit and manage documents anytime, even on the go.

6. CM Security by Cheetah Mobile

Platforms: Android

Price: Free with in-app purchase options

This security app offers all kinds of nifty features, like AppLock, which stops intruders who try to unlock protected apps on your device and notifies you with the intruder’s photo.

7. Polaris Office

Platforms: Android and iOS

Price: Free Basic version, $3.99/month Smart version, $5.99/month Pro version

This app lets you create, edit and sync Microsoft Office files from your phone or device, and you won’t lose any of the formatting you worked diligently to create.

Small Business Financing 101

Of course, apps aren’t the only things that can help an entrepreneur successfully build and run their business. Having good credit can help tremendously, as well, since many lenders, including business credit card issuers, are going to pull a version of your traditional credit reports to see if they’re willing to extend financing for your business. (You can see how your credit is doing by viewing two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)   

If your credit is just fine, there are plenty of solid business credit cards (see our picks here) available that can help you finance some of your business expenses. The Small Business Administration also offers several loan programs designed to help budding and operational entrepreneurs and there’s also conventional financing at your disposal that you can look into. 

Just remember to manage whatever financing you use responsibly, since many business lenders require a personal guarantee and will report a default to the major consumer credit reporting agencies. You can find tips for making sure a business loan doesn’t wreck your credit here.

Image: Geber86

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