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Strategic Planning Gone Wrong: 5 Common Pitfalls to Dodge

Strategic planning is a fundamental part of running a successful small business. A solid strategic plan will guide your entrepreneurial journey, helping you decide how to structure, run, and grow your business. But whether you have years of experience or are just starting, there are many potential pitfalls hidden along the way. These are all things that can quickly derail your best intentions, especially when you already have a lot on your plate with running your business.

In this article, I’m going to look at the most common pitfalls of strategic planning and show you what you can do to avoid them. By the end, you’ll know what to do to stay focused on and on track as you efficiently assemble your plan.

What Do We Mean by ‘Strategic Planning’?

Strategic planning starts with defining clear and measurable goals. Then you’ll decide what actions you'll take and what resources you'll need to achieve them. This will give you a roadmap that starts with what you want and navigates you through how you’ll get there. For small businesses, a plan like this is crucial for making informed decisions and prioritizing resources effectively.

Common Pitfalls in Strategic Planning

Even experienced business owners face challenges in strategic planning, but first-time business owners are especially prone to the following pitfalls.

1. Lack of Clear Goals

This might seem like an obvious one, but the first pitfall (and subsequent mistakes) comes from not setting clear goals. If your goals are vague, not specific, or not measurable, it's like having your GPS set up with no destination entered. You won’t be able to get any directions.

For example, don’t write down your goal as "I want to grow my business." Instead, take this idea and quantify it by asking questions like ‘How much growth are you aiming for?’ ‘Over what period?’ ‘In what aspects - sales, market share, number of customers?’

When you don’t have clear goals, you won’t be able to form strategies or tactics, because you're unsure what you're trying to achieve in the first place. It could lead to confusion, misalignment of efforts, wastage of resources, and frustration.

When your goals and objectives are clearly defined, you’ll know what you want to achieve and how you can make it happen.

Pitfall: Formulating strategic plans without clear, defined goals.

Avoidance Strategy: Set S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals. With SMART goals, you can define what you want to achieve, how to measure progress, ensure it's attainable, keep it relevant, and set a timeframe for achieving it.

2. Failure to Conduct a SWOT Analysis

A SWOT analysis is a simple yet powerful tool that can be as detailed or high level as you need. It will help you understand the Strengths and Weaknesses within your business and the Opportunities and Threats in your external environment.

Skipping this step is the second pitfall! If you don’t have this vital information, you might not leverage your strengths properly, leaving room for competitors to outshine you. Or you might not work on your weaknesses, making your business vulnerable. Not identifying opportunities could mean missed chances to grow, and not recognizing threats might lead to unexpected challenges.

For example, if one of your strengths is exceptional customer service, you could highlight it in your marketing efforts. Suppose a weakness is your lack of digital presence. In that case, it's a cue to invest in a strong website and social media strategy. An opportunity could be a new market segment showing interest in your product, and a threat could be a new competitor.

Pitfall: Skipping a SWOT analysis.

Avoidance Strategy: Regularly conduct a SWOT analysis. Understand your business's strengths and weaknesses, seize identified opportunities, and plan against potential threats.

3. Ignoring Market Trends and Customer Needs

Market trends and customer needs are the wind that steers your business ship. If you don't adjust your sails to this wind, you might find your business off-course or stuck in the doldrums.

ignoring market trends could mean offering outdated products or services. Your business might lose relevance, and customers may flock to competitors who stay on top of trends. Similarly, being out of tune with customer needs and expectations could lead to dissatisfaction and the loss of customers.

For instance, if you run a retail store and don’t have an online shopping option, setting up an e-commerce store is important. Or if your customers start valuing eco-friendly products, incorporating sustainable practices in your business could become a necessity.

Pitfall: Ignoring evolving market trends and customer needs.

Avoidance Strategy: Regularly conduct market research and customer feedback surveys. Stay up to date with the latest market trends and align your products or services accordingly.

4. Insufficient Resource Allocation

Resources - time, money, human resources, equipment - are like the fuel for your business engine. Not having enough fuel or not using it efficiently can lead to stalls or breakdowns.

Not allocating sufficient resources for your strategic plan means you could face delays, subpar outcomes, or even a complete failure of strategies. It can lead to financial loss, demotivated teams, and loss of faith in strategic planning.

Let's say you plan a marketing campaign but don't allocate enough budget for high-quality graphics, media placement, or tracking results. In that case, the campaign might not be as effective as expected, leading to wasted time and money.

Pitfall: Inadequate resource allocation disrupts your plan's execution.

Avoidance Strategy: Accurately assess the resources (time, money, staff, equipment) required for each aspect of your strategic plan. Allocate resources efficiently to support effective execution.

5. Poor Communication

Your strategic plan is not just for you or your top management. It's for everyone in the business. It's the roadmap that shows everyone where the business is headed and what's their role in getting there.

If you don't communicate this plan effectively, your team might not understand or buy into it. It can lead to confusion, misaligned efforts, and poor performance. It might create a gap between different levels of the organization and lead to lower morale.

Let’s say your strategic plan involves improving customer service, but you don't communicate it properly to your frontline staff. In that case, they might not make the necessary changes in their interactions with customers. It could lead to a gap between your intentions and actual customer experiences.

Pitfall: Poor communication of the strategic plan within your team.

Avoidance Strategy: Clearly and regularly communicate your strategic plan to your team. Ensure everyone understands the plan, their role in it, and how it contributes to the business goals.

Key Takeaways

Strategic planning is vital for your small business's success. An essential first step is recognizing common pitfalls such as lack of clear goals, failure to conduct a SWOT analysis, ignoring market trends and customer needs, insufficient resource allocation, and poor communication. Counteracting these pitfalls will set you on the path to a robust, effective strategic plan.

Have you encountered pitfalls while crafting your strategic plan? I’ll be covering these topics and more in the Ready, Set, Thrive 2024 Playbook Q4 Planning Sessions.

In these 6-hour virtual workshops, we will create your complete plan for a profitable 2024!

To find out more, head over here:


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