There are many ways for a small-business owner to fail. Most are within his or her control to avoid. In the following, let’s just say that the “I’s” have it.
Incompetence: You probably know what you’re doing, but does your staff? There’s a certain restaurant I go with friends. The place is convenient, the prices reasonable and the food okay. However, every meal becomes an ordeal because the regular waitress just can’t get anything right. She forgets to bring our water, even after we ask her three times; she never totals the bill right; she brings out one meal and the others ten minutes later. I think she’s the boss’s wife’s sister’s daughter, but she needs to find a new career.
If you have incompetent employees, get rid of them, no matter how nice they are. Keeping them on the payroll is hurting you, costing you business.
Indifference: This is the Achilles Heel of the successful business. A few years ago, I decided to try out a new print shop in my area. The owner acted as if he were doing me a favor and was actually downright rude. (He was second generation and, if his father had had any sense, would have never let the kid have it.) I walked out and swore I’d never again subject myself to that kind of treatment. More to the point, I advised others to take their business elsewhere. BTW, they shut down six months later.
If you’re too busy and so successful that you can afford to treat your customers like they don’t matter, it won’t be long before they won’t care to do business with you. Check your attitude. Either straighten out or sell out.
Ignorance: I’ve watched more than my share of starry-eyed dreamers decide to start a B & B, buy a restaurant, or just come to the misguided conclusion that it would be neat to work for themselves … even though they didn’t have a clue how to go about making a go of it. It’s okay to be ignorant today, but what you don’t know will hurt you tomorrow.
Learn, study, ask questions, find a mentor, and do whatever it takes to become a knowledgeable business owner. Otherwise, you’ll be back on someone else’s payroll before you can say, “Boy, business is sure a lot harder than I thought it would be.” Every night before you go to bed, make sure you can tell yourself, “I know more today than I did yesterday.”
Indolence: Small-business owners burn out. The usual cycle runs about 10 to 15 years. (Some folks say it’s more like seven.) The smart ones sell out and move on, or find some way to put life back into their dream. The ones that don’t, that just hang on, end up rotting from the inside out. They get lazy and stop looking for ways to nudge down their costs while urging up their sales. They sit back and let the business die around them.
If you’re hitting burnout, don’t just coast. Every day your business isn’t growing, it’s dying. Find a buyer and move on. Or start a new product line, revamp an old one…do something to put that spark back in your business and that bounce back in your step. I’ve been in business 30 years, and I reinvent myself every six or seven years. When I begin to get bored and indifferent, I take a week off and head out into a monestery or drive cross country. When I get back, I’m bursting with new ideas, new product lines, new life and energy.
Intimacy: The old story about the boss running away with his secretary is no joke. It happens too often. However, romance in the office doesn’t work. I was employed in a six-person firm years ago. One of the two partners, a married man, was having an affair with the office manager. Her work fell off along with her attitude, his wife divorced him, and the business went down in flames.
To put a G Rated spin on an old adage, “Don’t play where you work.” And don’t let anyone else in the business do so either. It will destroy everything you’ve worked to build.
The bottom line: You know what makes your business a success. Now, just don’t forget what can also send it down the tubes. Work hard. Make money. Have fun. — John R. Ingrisano
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