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Business failure is a distinct possibility for many businesses, especially for start-ups during the so-called three-year "valley of death". A key to getting through these years is to avoid the obvious mistakes. Generally speaking, businesses fail for significant and substantial reasons which are often very evident to outsiders. Insiders often fail to see them because of their closeness, determination and so on. Areas where failure is most likely to occur include finance. markets/sales, offerings, management and operations. See a detailed listing of possible reasons for business failure.

Clearly, there are very many reasons as to why businesses fail. The key point is that causes are usually very apparent (especially with hindsight) and the trick is to anticipate them by executing appropriate tactics and strategies from the outset. Three examples:

  • Use market research to confirm demand and assess suitability of proposed offerings.
  • Create a management team to offset any gaps in experience or expertise.
  • Raise equity to reduce exposure to interest rate changes, reduce gearing etc.

Given that reasons for failure are often both simple and clear, it should (in theory) be possible to reduce the possibility of failure through prior experience, forethought and effective planning.

For more information, see Devising Business Strategies, Developing a Strategic Business Plan and Writing a Business Plan. Also look at and/or participate in the online poll on Strengths & Weaknesses of Businesses.

Here are some suggested new year resolutions for 2010 for better business planning applicable to any established business:


When planning a new business or developing an existing one, it is useful to have a gut feel for the characteristics of a successful business. Here are some criteria against which to measure your business or its plan:

    1. Be sensibly financed (with prudent mix of equity and debt).
    2. Have a strong cash position (with access to follow-on or contingency funds).
    3. Offer above-average profitability (in terms of return on capital invested).
    4. Aim for rapid growth in revenues (with profits lagging but in prospect).
    5. Target expanding, or otherwise attractive, market segments.
    6. Develop a strong franchise or brand.
    7. Devote substantial resources to innovation (R&D, offerings or market).
    8. Compete on non-price issues (e.g. quality, service, functionality).
    9. Be very close to customers and responsive to their needs.
    10. Seek a specialist/leadership image with superior offerings.
    11. Be well managed with high-grade staff & good people-management.

Behind every characteristic there should be an explicit strategy designed to increase the chances of success and not simply aimed at reducing the likelihood of failure. For example, for #1, a startup might decide to raise external equity and place minimal reliance on borrowings or an established business might set a limit of 50% on its projected debt/equity ratio. 

For more help on setting strategies, see Developing a Strategic Plan and Devising Business Strategies. Use the free Online Strategic Planner to create a 3-page strategic plan.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Management category.

Financial Projections is the previous category.

Market Planning is the next category.

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