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Classic Mistakes Business Owners Should Avoid When Creating a Business Plan


We have seen many business leaders make costly errors as they put together their plan for the year to come – errors that make it harder than it should be for their teams to implement the plan and attain the goals it identifies.

Here are five of the most expensive mistakes we see. Avoid all five, and you will write a better business plan!

1) Skipping, rushing, or failing to analyze your annual employee performance reviews. 

Completing these personnel reviews is an essential prerequisite to creating an effective business plan, and this step is often overlooked. Do your employee reviews first – or if they are already complete, review them closely. Then start writing your business plan. Following this process carries several important advantages. First and foremost, it puts your team members first, which is where they belong. Second, it will remind you, the business owners, of which teams and people bring strengths to the table. And last but not least, it will help you understand what changes occurred in the last year. Why those changes occurred and what your new priorities are for the business – information you will need to make good decisions about your business objectives for the following year.

2) Not talking to employees first. 

It's a huge mistake to casually "drop" your business plan on your team members, especially if it incorporates major changes. Discuss, in general terms, the key initiatives you have in mind; as you share how the coming year is likely to be different from the year just past, listen for feedback and insights. I can't tell you how many times I've heard employees (especially salespeople) tell me they're frustrated because their boss isn't talking to them about what's on the horizon or because they don't understand their performance goals for the coming year. Consider: What is crystal-clear to you may not be clear to them. Try to put yourself in their position during these important discussions. If someone on your team was told that Project A was the "most important thing" in their world in March but learned in July that Project A no longer existed…and then was told in August that Project Z was suddenly the new "most important thing," that person might feel frustrated and left out of the loop. They might disengage; they might become cynical. In other words, there might be a communication disconnect for you to address. Leadership must always connect these kinds of dots. Keep an eye out for opportunities to clarify the reasoning behind your decisions and emerging goals. After all, your team members are the ones whose job it will be to turn those goals into reality. You don't want big ideas and bold new initiatives to leave employees feeling uninformed, and you definitely want to hold on to the good people you've got right now! How can you celebrate an employee's accomplishments, hear them out, and simultaneously enroll them in your company's larger mission?

3) Skipping in-depth discussions with all department heads. 

Everything I just said about employee discussions goes double for your planning discussions with the department heads who report to you. These talks, too, should precede your written work on the business plan. In preparation for these important conversations, take a little time to reflect on each department both independently and as part of a collective whole. Doing so will prepare you to meet personally with each department head to discuss what went well, where the opportunities to improve in the coming year are, and what they see as the most critical issues on the horizon. Remember: Every department contributes, in some way, to the customer experience and the growth of your business.

4) Simply announcing the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you will be monitoring in the coming year. 

This ties back to Mistake #3. One of the most important discussions you and your department heads can have is the one that results in you agreeing on exactly how success will be measured. Yes, as the business owner, you must feel comfortable that the metrics selected are relevant -- but it's equally important that each department head buys into and gets excited about improving those numbers. Give them a voice in the selection process. (And it goes without saying that your final business plan will want to avoid setting vague, unmeasurable department goals like "get a handle on our shipping problem.”)

5) Assuming your business plan won't need to be reviewed and updated during the year.

Remember: Your business plan is a tool for making decisions in a business environment that is constantly changing. That's why it makes sense to schedule the time for in-depth quarterly reviews of your plan before you distribute it to your team... so you can all be sure you have set aside the necessary time to review its assumptions, pare away assumptions that are no longer supporting the company, insert new assumptions and tactics that are, and bring the plan up to date. A business plan that needs to be in sync with reality does not lead to good decisions!

Are you looking for guidance and tools to help you create a great business plan this month? We can help. Contact a Sandler franchise near you by connecting with us.

Matt Sala

Matt Saia

Matt Saia is the owner of Saia Sales Leadership, a Sandler Training Center in the greater Sacramento area. As a Sandler Trainer and coach, Matt works with sales professionals and managers who are frustrated with the challenge of maintaining a full pipeline of qualified prospects, the close rate of their current pipeline, and eroding margins in mature industries.