When I first entered the job market, all my advisors all stressed, over and over again, to be sure my résumé had no misspellings or grammatical errors. They said that employers have to screen hundreds of job applications, and would use any good reason or bad excuse to toss out an applicant. Misspellings and language usage mistakes show a lack of attention to detail at best, or worse, sloppy carelessness. Reason enough to not want that applicant as an employee.

Today I want to stress the importance of spell checking and editing your business plan. Banks, lenders, VCs and others are wary of lending any of their cash right now. Misspellings and language errors in business plans are reason enough to not want to invest in, or finance a business applicant.

Here are some short summaries from, and links to, blog posts about the importance of editing your business-planning documents.

Don’t depend exclusively on your software spell checker
First, always use your spell check software. Second, don’t trust it. We have all become complacent, trusting our software spelling and grammar check tools. These certainly help us find misspelled words, but they will let a properly spelled, incorrect word sail right on through. In writing a business plan, or in any of your other business communications for that matter, this type of error can kill your deal, sink your financing, turn away your customer.

One of my favorite examples of properly spelled incorrect words is Ladle Rat Rotten Hut (Little Red Riding Hood). “Wants pawn term dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge, dock, florist.” (Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived with her mother in a little cottage on the edge of a large, dark forest.)

Grammar Rules!
We are all rather casual in our day-to-day conversations where we imply and infer much from nuances in voice tone, body posture, gestures, context, etc., but when applied to written documents, this habit has ruined many businesses, partnerships, and friendships.

  • Don’t use no double negatives. Don’t never use no triple negatives.
  • No sentence fragments
  • Corollary: Complete sentences: important.
  • Take care that your verb and subject is in agreement.
  • Keep your ear to the grindstone, your nose to the ground, take the bull by the horns of a dilemma, and stop mixing your metaphors.

Gittin you grammatchicals ko-rec
In one piece from Pogo’s Double Sundae, by Walt Kelly, the characters are discussing grammar — a subject pertinent to business plans, business writing and business presentations.

“A octopus did got him? Is that grammatiwackle?”
“As grammacklewack as rain… “is got” is the present aloofable tense an “did got” is past particuticle.”
“…Mighty strange. My teachers allus learnt me that the past inconquerable tense had a li’l’ more body to it.”
“Course what he ought to holler is OCTOPOTMUS IS GOT ME!”
“He could of hollered OCTOPOTS DID GOT ME!”
“That’d be more the past invokable tense–only for use ‘gainst elephants an’ other dry type game.”
“Then, in that case he’d of hollered ELEPHUMPS DID GOT ME!”
“I’d use the present indictible tense more like this — RHINOCKWURSTS DONE IS GOT ME!”
“The future provokable would be better — more like HIPPOLOLLIPOPS IS GONE GOT ME!”

Exquisite humor…unless you find it in a business plan or presentation.

About words
English is difficult to learn and use properly, whether it is your birth tongue or a second language. Incorrect or ambiguous usage can cause you, your business plan, and your company no end of problems. It has numerous unique word categories for which we, characteristically, have special words. Here are just a few:

  • Homonyms(1): Words that have the same spelling but different meanings, such as fleet (a group of ships) and fleet (swift).
  • Homonyms(2): Words which sound the same but have different spellings and different meanings; there, their, and they’re being, perhaps, the most abused.
  • Synonyms: Words which are different but convey the same or almost the same meaning, such as a business, a company, a venture, an enterprise, a corporation, etc.
  • Palindromes: Words, phrases or passages that read the same forward or backward. “A man, a plan, a canal – Panama.”
  • Onomatopoeia: The formation or use of words that imitate the sound of the object or action, such as “hiss” or “buzz.”
  • Malapropisms: The unintentional use of a wrong, similar sounding word, especially when the effect is ridiculous. “Be careful when forecasting profit and loss, that you properly deprecate assets.”

The difference between the right word and the almost-right word
The full version of the following story can be found on several Internet sites.

“At New York’s Kennedy airport today, an individual, later discovered to be a public school teacher, was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, and a calculator.”

The Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security believe the man is a member of the notorious Al-Gebra movement. He is being charged with carrying weapons of math instruction.

Al-Gebra is a very fearsome cult, indeed. They desire average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on a tangent in a search of absolute value. They consist of quite shadowy figures, with names like “x” and “y”, and, although they are frequently referred to as “unknowns”, we know they really belong to a common denominator and are part of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country…”

Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning-bug.”

The story above is also a cautionary tale about spell checker software, and the almost-right word. Everything in that story is spelled correctly, but many words are very incorrect in the context of Homeland Security.

If you make similar mistakes in the business plan you submit, the bank, the investors, the venture competition judges, or your MBA professors will also get a good laugh … and keep right on chuckling as they send your plan to the Out box.

“This is a quality product!”
Every product, every service, everything has a quality (noun). What is missing from claims like this is an adjective distinguishing exactly what quality is being touted.

  • High quality
  • Indifferent quality
  • Good quality
  • Dubious quality
  • Fair quality
  • Export quality
  • Premium quality
  • Middling quality
  • Top-drawer quality
  • POS quality
  • Craftsman quality
  • Discount quality

Give your product or service a few superlative adjectives — if they are deserved.
Of course, you may not want (or be able, legally) to use high-quality adjectives for your product. So go ahead. Leave them out. But we’ll still know the quality…it’s scrappy.

So, choose your words carefully as you conduct your business. Proofread your plan. Have someone who wasn’t involved in writing the plan read it over. Implement the edit suggestions you receive. Correct spelling and editing are fundamental.

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Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.