If you’re a small business owner, then I’m sure some evil acquaintance of yours has told you that roughly half of all small businesses fail in their first five years. Perhaps he or she went farther and informed you that two-thirds of all small businesses fail within ten years. Perhaps he or she then went even farther and started pointing out the insurmountable deficiencies of whatever it is you’re trying to sell, but I hope at least by that point you were savvy enough to smack them upside the head and maybe threaten their life a little bit. (Just a little.)
The point is, running a small business is extremely difficult, and the odds are against you. Because of that, you’ll usually read about various strategies from overcoming all obstacles and succeeding despite those odds. However, since you’ve already read a lot of those articles, I thought it would be more fun to do the opposite. Sometimes knowing what not to do is just as helpful as knowing what you should do, and it’s definitely a lot more fun.
So here you are – four sure-fire ways to guarantee that your small business ends up like all the countless extinct invertebrate species we don’t even have fossils of.
Split Your Focus in Too Many Directions
Small business owners are generally creative, and creating things is generally way more fun than actually selling them. Failed business owners often concentrate all their efforts on coming up with new ideas and glossing over the whole ‘execution’ part of those ideas. Successful businesses tend to become experts in a relatively small number of products or services, while failing businesses drown in ideas. And which would you rather have – success, or violent death by drowning?
Try to Please Everyone
If junior high taught me anything, it’s that most of the women on the planet have no interest in talking to me. And if owning a small business has taught me anything, it’s that most people are not interested in what I have to offer. That’s true of all businesses; David Letterman, for example, gets less than 2% of the country to watch his show every night, and he’s remarkably successful. Good businesses find the people who like what they offer and then concentrate on pleasing that audience. So if you want to fail, just try to be all things to all people. That’s what we all tried to do in junior high, and I think we can all agree that that was a stellar decision.
Try to Do Everything Yourself
One of America’s most destructive myths is the notion of the self-made businessperson. Nobody becomes successful without support from others, unless you somehow happen to believe that Steve Jobs made all those iPads himself in a backyard garage after painstakingly mining and refining all of the materials on his own (with mining equipment he built himself, by the way). Successful businesses acknowledge their weaknesses, find partners for whom those weaknesses are strengths, and accept their help. You, on the other hand, should skim through a book about website design and then build your own over the weekend.
Obsess About Your Competitors’ Successes
There will always be someone smarter than you, stronger than you, more attractive than you, more successful than you, wealthier than you, and I could keep going but I’m starting to depress myself. Which is exactly my point – the more time you spend staring at what your competitors are doing (especially the ones you think don’t deserve the success they’ve had), the less time you’ll be devoting to the work you should be doing. I’m not sure this will help your business fail, but it will definitely help you become angry and embittered. So I suppose it’s not totally wasted advice.