How to Avoid Failure: Put a Strategic Business Plan in Place

Small to mid-size businesses often are so busy working on their day-to-day tasks that they leave little time to plan for the future, to envision a journey the business could or should be on.

If you scour the numerous books and professional journals on the market offering small-business advice, they all pretty much agree on the top five reasons for business failures:

  • Lack of planning
  • Leadership failure
  • Lack of differentiation: Failure to communicate a value proposition
  • Lack of meaningful customer engagement
  • Inability to learn from failure

In this five-part series on small-business strategies, I will show you how to avoid these root causes of failure and, instead, create building blocks for the success of your enterprise based on these critical factors.

There’s a reason why “planning” tops the list. You cannot have a successful strategy without planning. As the old adage goes, “By failing to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Plan Your Business’ Route to Success

When I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s before our family headed out on vacation my parents would stop by the office of the American Automobile Association, or AAA, to pick up a TripTik — a spiral-bound, 4-by-9 inch book with maps detailing how to get from point A to point B. The route would be highlighted by the AAA travel agent based on whether my parents indicated they wanted the quickest or the most scenic route to our destination. We trusted AAA because its agents had more travel experiences to a lot more destinations than my parents. And it worked. When we hit the road, we had a plan.

One of the greatest inventors of the 20thcentury, Thomas Alva Edison, at first blush did not seem to be too concerned about planning. He once said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The point one might miss from this anecdote was that Edison actually planned his work that way. He failed fast and furiously in order to quickly unpack what had happened and learn from it. That could very well be why Edison was also known to have said, “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.”

One of the greatest mistakes many people make with their businesses and the projects they work on is that they plunge in without first having a solid plan. This may not have a disastrous effect on a well-established business owner pivoting into something new; however, a startup without a well-thought-out plan can be out of business before it opens its doors.

Gino Wickman, in his book Traction, unpacks the Vision component of his Entrepreneurial Operating System, or EOS, in eight basic questions. Within those questions are the 10-year target, the three-year picture, the one-year plan, and the quarterly priorities. These, along with core values, core focus, marketing strategy, and an issues list create the “vision/traction organizer” which provides the fundamental basis for identifying where a business wants to go and how it intends to get there. Without employing Wickman’s EOS or some other deliberate process, business owners are merely trying to “pitch their sail” whichever way the wind is blowing. That method may continue to work as long as there is a decent breeze, but what happens when the wind fails to blow? What Plan B do they have to sustain the business when they need to employ other means? Again, the consistent theme is that they need to have a plan.

Drive Your Business Plan’s Execution

Now, thousands of businesses have expended resources of time and money to construct elaborate, well-thought-out business plans and yet they have failed nonetheless. Why? Lack of execution. Period. In Stephen Covey’s remarkable book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the second habit is “Begin with the end in mind.” While this habit is important in constructing a well-thought-out business plan, it is even more critical to the successful execution and implementation of that plan. That success rests with PEOPLE, and it begins with the people at the top.

Any significant business strategy involves some degree of change — in direction, focus, structure, process or a number of other factors. What makes that change successful is how well it is championed by management in both words and actions. You won’t achieve strategic objectives by driving an action plan — no matter how aggressively — if the plan is simply layered on top of what has been the status quo. Instead, accountability must start at the top to ensure that the entire organization is working toward your objectives.

The organization’s people must be involved in the development of the plan so that they have some “skin” in its execution. You need to connect the strategies in the plan to each individual’s role and appeal to the individual’s own rational self-interests. To do so, apply these management methods.

  • Listen and learn: Understand what employees’ greatest concerns are and create opportunities for people to engage with managers to voice those concerns.
  • Explain the “why”: People who are needed to execute the plan need to have “buy-in,” so let them in on the reasons behind the plan.
  • Let people see your passion for what needs to be done: If they don’t believe you believe in the change strategy, why should they? Don’t tell people what they want to hear, tell them what they need to hear, in a way they will hear it.
  • Be authentic: No one likes or believes a person they sense is not being straight with them, nor will they follow such a person enthusiastically. Focus on purpose, create common ground. This will build a base of employees who act like owners — owners who execute and are accountable.

Napoleon Hill, the famous author of The Law of Success, said: “Create a definite plan for carrying out your desire and begin at once, whether you are ready or not, to put this plan into action.” To be a success, a plan has to have action; an action that is executed by people; and people who believe in the plan and will, therefore, be accountable for its implementation.

If you would like to discuss how Santry360 can assist you with getting your own personal “TripTik” for your business, email me at I would appreciate the opportunity to share my experiences with you and be your guide for your business’ exciting new journey.


Coming next in our five-part series: Part 2 — Leadership failure.

Kevin Santry

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