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16 Min. Read

20 Reasons Why Small Businesses Fail And How To Avoid Them

What Are the Most Common Causes of Small Business Failure? Questions Startups Need to Ask.

The failure rate of small businesses is significant—as many as 45% of start-ups don’t survive the first 5 years. 1 So why do so many businesses fail? The primary causes of business failure are cash flow problems, poor financial planning, and a lack of market awareness.

We’ll explore 20 reasons why small businesses fail so you can avoid common pitfalls and develop a strategy to help your business grow and thrive.

Key Takeaways 

  • Most small businesses fail within the first 10 years.
  • Common financial reasons include poor pricing strategies, insufficient funds, and cash flow.
  • Creating a clear business plan can help small business owners avoid common failures.
  • Understanding your target market is key to creating a good business strategy.

Table of Contents

1. Lack of Planning

A clear vision is key to successfully running your small business. Start by setting research-backed goals for your company: what benchmarks do you want to reach in your 1st year? In your 5th year?

Setting timelines helps you keep on track with your goals and helps you make adjustments if you find you’re not where you want to be. Create a strategy for your business growth and set up check-in points. 

For example, check in every 2 months to make sure you’re on track to reach your goals. This gives you a chance to follow up with what’s working well and change anything that needs to be modified to help you stay on track.

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2. Choice of Location

Business location is one of the most important decisions you can make when setting up a new small business. If you provide in-person goods or services, you need to make sure that there’s enough local demand to support your business. 

Businesses like bakeries and shops often rely on foot traffic for success, so visibility is key. Other industries like lawn care require you to commute to your customers, so you’ll want to pick a central location to minimize transportation costs.

If you offer remote services, location is still important—if you have some flexibility, consider how business taxes vary between states and municipalities. 

It’s also important to consider how you might expand in the future. If you see yourself opening up a second location, look for an area that has room to accommodate your future business growth. 

3. Lack of Research

Understanding your industry, competitors, and target market is key to business success and survival. Research common pitfalls in your industry so you can understand the specific challenges your company might face.

It’s also important to learn about your competitors. See how your services and prices compare to theirs, and consider whether you can offer any niche contributions to set your business apart.

Learn what customers are looking for from your company so you can deliver tailored experiences. Some demands are evergreen (constant), while others vary with market trends—research can help you determine and predict market trends so you can stay on top of your customers’ needs.

4. No Business Plan

In addition to your overall vision for your company, you’ll need to create a clear and actionable business plan. This helps communicate your vision to investors and other team members. There are many resources available to help you create a business plan, including business plan templates.

Your business plan should include:

  • A description of your company and what you offer
  • A market analysis including threats and opportunities
  • Competitor analysis
  • Marketing plan, including target customer profile
  • Budget and projected cash flow
  • Scalable growth plan

You’ll want to regularly revisit this business plan and review the success of each strategy. If you find anything that’s not serving your business, catching that early and making the right adjustments can be the difference between failure and success.

5. Poor Pricing Strategy

Setting the right price is a delicate challenge, but it’s essential for surviving as a small business. You need to price high enough that you cover your costs and make a profit, but low enough that it’s still accessible to a large customer base.

Start by understanding the costs involved in delivering your product or service. Calculate all the materials and labor costs, then factor in your profit margin.

Next, compare your prices against competitors. When you first start out, you may not be able to match the prices and profits of more established companies. If you find your prices are significantly higher, you might need to decrease your profit margin slightly. 

Remember that even if you can’t exactly match your competitors, there are other strategies you can use to distinguish your business—competitor prices are a guideline, not a hard rule.

6. Insufficient Funds

Financing is a common challenge for new businesses, and it’s important to ensure you have sufficient funds right from the start. There are a range of financing options you can consider, from small business loans to investor support. Research all your options and compare how they’ll support you in the short and long term.

It’s also important to effectively manage your finances once you’ve acquired start-up capital. Make sure you understand all of your business costs including licenses, materials, taxes, and labor. Balance that against your projected profits to make sure you’ll be able to stay operative through the first few challenging years.

7. Cash Flow Problems

Financial management isn’t just about the big picture—it’s also about the way your business spends cash in day-to-day business operations. Make sure you keep track of all the ways your company spends money, from larger costs like rent and labor to everyday transportation costs.

It’s easy to get caught up in things like marketing and product development and run out of cash flow early on. Make sure you have a clear budget that you review regularly to ensure you have sufficient cash flow to manage your business.

8. Poor Debt Management

There’s more to small business financing than just start-up capital and cash flow: you’ll also want to stay on top of any debt and ensure your credit remains strong. If not managed carefully, these challenges can easily spiral out of control and sink a small business.

It’s not uncommon for new entrepreneurs to assume some debt as a new business—you might have taken a start-up loan as part of your initial process. However, that debt can become problematic if you’re not making enough profit to consistently make your payments.

One of the most common signs of impending debt issues for small businesses is delaying bill payments. If you find that your business is struggling to meet bills, debt, or credit card payments, it’s time to do a close examination of your finances and cash flow to see where you might be able to cut costs and get on top of any financing issues before they become a larger problem.

9. Dependence on One Customer

Building customer relationships is important, but it can be risky to become too reliant on just one customer. Even if that customer represents a large share of your current profit, there’s never a guarantee that they’ll be able to sustain your company.

Once you’ve found a great customer, analyze how you won that customer and see how you can apply those strategies to finding new customers. Consider what that client was looking for and how they found your company so you can understand what worked well in your next marketing campaigns.

Build a customer profile and focus your marketing on reaching clients who fit that profile. See if they tend to live in a certain area, frequent a certain job or social media platform, or search for particular keywords. Try to diversify your customer base so you aren’t reliant on just one client for your business survival. 

10. Inadequate Profit

Most small businesses have low profits in their first few years, but there’s a point where those profits can become too low to survive. If you find that your profits aren’t enough to cover your expenses, it’s time to think about profit maximization strategies.

One of the first things to examine when you’re facing inadequate profit is your current cost management. Are there any areas where costs can be cut? Consider whether there are more affordable manufacturers, equipment options, or business spaces available to you.

You can also examine your pricing strategies. If you start by pricing low and you’re selling a large volume but still not making a good profit, your prices may be priced too low. Calculate how much you would have to raise your prices to make enough profit, and test out slightly higher prices to see how customers respond.

11. Competition

Even if you offer great products and services, it can still be hard to survive if you’re facing a lot of competition. Conduct a market analysis to see how many competitors are in your industry and area, what products they offer, and how their prices compare to yours.

Once you have a thorough understanding of your competitors, you can devise strategies to set yourself apart. This can include everything from offering competitive prices to providing a higher-quality product. You can also explore marketing strategies or consider how you can offer a slightly different product to fill a market niche.

12. Lack of Market Demand

Even the best businesses can fail if there’s no demand for their product. Market demand also fluctuates, so what’s in demand today can change by tomorrow. Keeping track of market trends and demand can help you stay ahead of the curve with what your company offers.

Start by assessing what’s currently in demand and how you can pitch your product to meet that demand. As customer needs evolve, you may need to slightly alter your products to adapt to changing customer needs.

13. Unexpected Growth

Growing your business is a hallmark of success, but it can also pose risks if you expand too rapidly without a clear plan. Unexpected growth can lead to over-extending your resources, overworking employees, and losing track of customers.

To prevent fallout from unexpected growth, it’s essential to have a scalable business plan. Make sure you can still deliver high-quality goods and services as you expand, so your customers stay satisfied. Keep track of how much money and labor you’re expending on new services so you can bring on new employees as you grow.

It’s all about striking a balance—you want to make sure you hire enough talent to keep up with growth but avoid hiring too early in case your growth slows down. Tracking your expenditures in relation to growth is the best way to create a plan for the future.

14. Lack of Experience

Successful business owners need vision and passion, but they also need experience to translate into their goals into a successful company. Lack of experience and industry knowledge can hold your business back, so it’s important to build a dedicated management team with a thorough understanding of the market.

A business mentor can help you manage the small business owner aspects of your company. Look for someone with experience managing their own business who can advise you on things like developing a business plan, hiring the right talent, and pitching to investors. 

It’s also important to bring on experts in your industry. Look for experienced financial advisors who can guide you through developing your financial strategies. You’ll build experience as you grow, but it’s a good idea to bring in experts for specific jobs like marketing and accounting.

15. Ignoring Customer Needs

The best source for understanding market demand is customers themselves. Responding to feedback helps you build strong relationships with your existing customers and helps you understand what you need to do to gain more customers.

Listen to customer feedback on pricing, services, accessibility, and any other concerns they may have. In some cases, you may not be able to accommodate every suggestion, but it’s helpful to respond and then do a cost-benefit analysis and see how making the recommended changes might impact your business.

If you feel like you’re not receiving customer feedback, consider reaching out. Comment and feedback forms after a completed order can be a helpful tool for gaining market analysis in real-time.

16. Poor Communication

Having a clear vision that you can communicate to investors and customers is important, but it’s just as key to having strong communication inside your business. When your team doesn’t understand your business goals, it’s harder for everyone to collaborate efficiently. 

If you’re operating your small business as a partnership, it’s fine to have different skill sets, but you need to be on the same page about vision and goals. Creating a business plan collaboratively can help ensure you agree on the primary strategies for your company.

Weak communication can lower morale and productivity and prevent your business from growing effectively. Consider making a modified version of your business plan that you can share with your employees. This can include an overview of your business goals and strategies to help everyone get on the same page.

17. Ineffective Marketing

Even with great products, your business can’t succeed unless you effectively reach your target market. Ineffective marketing strategies can hold you back from connecting with customers, while great marketing helps you reach new audiences and grow your business.

It’s important to have a targeted campaign with a clear focus. Start by identifying your target customers and learning about how they interact with local businesses. This helps you determine where to place ads, what to offer, and how to speak to potential customers.

Make sure your marketing strategy has a way to track results. That could include tracking impacts and clicks, measuring follow-through, and consulting with new customers to discover how they found your business so you can build on your most effective strategies.

18. Lack of Innovation

A great product at the start of your business may not remain competitive as the market changes. Innovation is essential for ensuring your business stays relevant and continues to be successful. 

This doesn’t mean you have to drop products if they’re still performing well, but it’s a good idea to consider how you can improve or develop new products if you have the capital to spend on development. This helps you stay ahead of the curve in a changing market.

Even with evergreen products, your business practices can still become stagnant. You’ll need to find new marketing strategies to reach new customers so that you can have a continuous revenue stream. Innovation spans all components of your business, from product development to new marketing methods.

19. Forgetting the Customer

Even if a product seems great to you, remember that in the end, it’s about the customer and how the product will meet their needs. Focus on learning about what the customer is looking for—what’s missing from current products, and how can your business satisfy that need.

If customers offer feedback, try to learn from that and incorporate it where possible. This can involve product innovation or customer service relationships. Customers will remember a great product, but they’ll also remember a personable and helpful business interaction.

Check-in with customers to make sure they’re fully satisfied with their experience. One way to do this is to send a follow-up email or form after their purchase. You can incentivize feedback by offering a small discount for filling out the form—this also encourages customers to return to your business.

20. Ineffective Leadership

While a great team and expert advice are important in supporting your business, it’s ultimately up to you to lead your company forward. If you’re burnt out or losing track of your vision, your team won’t know where to follow.

Strong leadership helps cultivate a positive company culture, a motivated team, and great client relationships. Your employees take their cue from you, so make sure to set a strong model for interacting with customers. 

Creating a good company culture starts with forging strong employer-employee relationships. Get to know your employees, their goals, and their challenges at work so you can help them perform their best. When you create a work environment that’s supportive and growth-oriented, it encourages your team to deliver their best work and help build your business.

Hit the Ground Sprinting


The reasons why small businesses fail can include everything from poor pricing strategies to ineffective marketing. Learning how to recognize problems like poor management and inexperience can help you identify issues in your company before they impact your success.

Understanding and recognizing why small businesses fail can help you create strategies to avoid common pitfalls. Tools like FreshBooks accounting software can also help you manage your expenses and avoid problems like insufficient cash flow. Try FreshBooks free to discover an easy tool to help your small business thrive.

FAQs on Reasons Why Small Businesses Fail

Is it true that 90% of startups fail?

Yes, ultimately about 90% of startups fail. A few fail in the first year, and most new businesses fail in the first 2 to 5 years. After 5 years, businesses that survive tend to see a small rise in profits and growth.

Why are small businesses declining?

Some of the biggest reasons why small businesses decline are market competition, lack of demand, and lack of financing. In many cases, larger and more established companies make it difficult for new small businesses to enter the market.

What is the biggest problem facing small businesses today?

One of the biggest problems currently facing small businesses is inflation. High inflation rates mean higher input costs for products, and usually also mean employees will seek higher salaries. It can also mean higher interest rates when trying to secure a first business loan.

Why are small businesses failing in today’s economy?

Many small businesses are failing in today’s economy because they lack planning and financial preparation. While market competition and funding pose challenges to business owners, these can be overcome with financial preparedness and a clear business plan.

Article Sources: 

  1. Exploding Topics, Startup Failure Rate Statistics.

Sandra Habinger headshot
Sandra Habiger, CPA

About the author

Sandra Habiger is a Chartered Professional Accountant with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Washington. Sandra’s areas of focus include advising real estate agents, brokers, and investors. She supports small businesses in growing to their first six figures and beyond. Alongside her accounting practice, Sandra is a Money and Life Coach for women in business.