1] Vagueness ... We see this a lot when people are afraid that someone will steal their idea. Lenders and investors are not interested in going into business themselves. They’re looking for places to put their money where they can get a desired return. If your business plan is too vague, they won’t understand what you’re doing, and they’ll put their money elsewhere.
2] Broad, Unsubstantiated Statements ... "Everyone loves ________________ …" Everyone? Fill the space with anything – chocolate, puppies, May flowers – and there is someone out there that just hates it, guaranteed. How about "There is a dire need for …" Dire? Are people dying in the streets because they don’t have your product or service? Not likely. Or "It is a known fact…" Known? By who? Don’t make broad, general statements you can’t substantiate.
3] Overly Optimistic Financial Projections ... You’ve got to have a positive attitude. But don’t be so positive that the reader will wonder if you realize that no one can predict the future with complete accuracy. Run scenarios that take various possibilities into account. You want to show lenders that you can pay back their loans or investors that you can pay dividends even if problems do crop up.
4] No Discussion of Risk ... Overly optimistic projections are usually accompanied by an absence of any discussion of risk. It is really important that you think about what can go wrong with your business and what you’re going to do if that happens. You can be absolutely sure that your reader will figure out what your risks are. You’d better assure them that you’ve thought about risk and have plans for dealing with it.
5] Inconsistency ... Does your marketing plan include tv advertising but your projections show only $200/month in advertising expenditures? That’s a real disconnect that any savvy reader will pick up right away. Chapters in a business plan are not separate, stand alone pieces. They all have to weave together to show that you know what you are doing.
6] Unrealistic Financial Assumptions ... Imagine 5-year projections with energy bills remaining constant over the entire five years. Or gross profit margins of 35% in the first year and 60% in the third. These things just don’t happen very often in real life. Make sure your numbers reflect the real world.
7] Sloppiness ... Spell-checker is a great tool but if your typo is another perfectly good English word it won’t get flagged. Not only should you proofread your business plan, but have one or more people who haven’t seen it before read it, too. We all have a tendency to see what we intended to write rather than what we actually typed. Fresh eyes are invaluable. And make sure you’ve double and triple-checked your numbers. Numbers that don’t add up correctly make a very bad impression.
8] Doesn’t Know the Market ... You really need to show that you know and understand your market(s). That means you’ve got to do some serious research. Here is where an outside consultant may be helpful. But with all the information available on the internet, you can do a good job by yourself if you put in the time and effort. See the Internet Resources page for some good websites.
9] Doesn’t Know the Competition ... No matter how unique your product or service, there’s always competition. Suppose, for example, that you were thinking of opening a bowling facility in a location where there isn’t another within a 25 mile radius – or even a 50 mile radius. You may think you have a monopoly. But that’s because you don’t recognize what your market really is. It isn’t the bowling market – it’s the recreation and entertainment market. Your competitors are movie theaters, amusement parks, miniature golf ranges, etc. If you don’t recognize this then how are you going to compete effectively?
10] Knocks the Competition ... People dismiss their competition too easily. First of all, if they’ve been in business for any length of time they must be doing something right. Ignore that at your own peril. If your widgets are better than theirs, then maybe their prices are lower or their service is superior or their advertising is more effective or their location is better. It’s not enough to know what’s wrong with your competition. If you’re going to succeed you’ve got to know what they do well and be prepared to compete with that.
11] Doesn’t Focus on the Reader ... Who are your readers and what do they want? Here’s a brief rundown:
- Bankers: They want to know how you’re going to repay the loan.
- Investors: They want to know if you’re going to be profitable enough to give them a high return either through dividends or by taking the business public.
- Strategic Allies: They’re going to have to spend a lot of time and money to do joint business with you. They want to know if it will be worth the investment.
- Major Clients (for Preferred Vendor Status): They’re going to invest time and money to bring you into the fold. The want to be sure you can deliver what they need, when they need it, at a price they can afford....AND that you're strong enough to be around for the long haul.