How not to fail.

This is near the anniversary of my biggest business failure. I learned some very expensive and some very painful lessons. Here’s the short story.

As a formerly successful entrepreneur I figured I could start a new enterprise that would be even more successful than my first company. I had ten years of success and so going after another goal…well it’s seemed doable.

There were two big mistakes that I made that, for coaching purposes, I will  share with you. 1. I was so sure of my success in the venture that I didn’t want to take on any partners. 2. I was so sure that my idea would work I ignored what was going on around me and in the technology world in general.

My simple idea was to have a way for anyone anywhere who wanted to hear/sample a cd before they bought it simply call an 800 number and through the magic of Telephony technology (Press one for two for etc.) they could find and play samples of the selected cd. Note that this idea was prior to the internet…but just only 6 months before the internet. The IR technology that existed at the time just had to be tweaked so to speak and then sold to companies that were selling music and any audio cd. Finding the technical people to accomplish this was not too hard. I choose to finance the company with my own funds.

This choice sounds natural enough but here is a lesson. If you have an idea that is valuable and other people think so then other people will want to invest. If you don’t give other people the opportunity to invest that is your choice but if don’t find other people to invest then maybe your idea is not worth investing in (gambling on). Lots of people surveyed at the time thought they would use the service. Some record chains were just beginning to let people hear music before they purchased in the store so why not over the phone?

Here’s the thing about technology that my blinders would let me see at the time. Technology moves much faster than one can imagine. By not keeping one eye on the developments of the tech of the time I got behind in developing a web version of the same service. So the unique selling proposition I had was obsolete before it was sell-able to the market. Do I regret losing tons of money? Of course I regret it. No reason for you to do that same mistake.

If your business needs to keep up with or ahead of technology then you must be prepared to either have very deep pockets or very wealthy friends/backers. This is so obvious in today’s world that it hardly needs saying. But the point is knowing how your particular business niche is moving forward via your competition or the industry at large is very important. Having the latest technology may not be necessary but knowing how technology will impact your specific business in both the short term and long term is now part of your job (yet another hat to wear).

Learn from your mistakes (miss-steps) and be prepared to change course quickly when necessary.

Keep on keeping on…



The Equinox ceremony is over and fall is upon us. All businesses have cycles and being clear about the cycles of your business is important in how you plan and deal with said cycles. All industries have cycles and I would be surprised if you found that your business in not affected by these ever changing cycles.

So the ups and downs of cash flow can often be related to industry cycles even if remotely. So step back and look at your cash flow and see if some cycle is at play as part of your challenge. If you find some indications that indeed a cycle is at play then what can you do about it? I recommend some planning as absolutely necessary.

Nature in her wisdom created Seasons, the cycles of life if you will, for a purpose. These seasons are of course, natural occurrences, and as such are something we can get ready for and prepare accordingly. Fall is here; we pack up the summer clothes and get out the fall and winter clothes. No big deal, unless, you don’t have fall or winter clothes.

So planning for business cycles, whether seasonal or not, becomes one of your jobs as an owner of your business. In the retail setting these cycles are partially what drive business: holidays are where the money is made. But for most service businesses these holiday cycles are a nuisance rather than a gift. A business must put some cash aside from the good times to deal with the lean times. I know, too obvious, and yet often not done by the small business venture.

Does your business even have a reserve account for emergencies? Many a sleepless night can be avoided by following some fiscal discipline when times are ‘good’. Bigger small businesses have banking relationships or funding sources that may be helpful through tough times once or twice. But eventually even they have to plan better for cycles. To be successful the old adage still rings true: “It’s not how much money you make, but rather, how much money you keep that makes the difference.”

Keep on keeping on…

Going the Distance

Going the Distance

Most of us in the USA have heard this phrase, “to boldly go where no man…etc.” in reference to just about any adventure. Starting a business is not like going into the unknown and yet “unknowns happen.”

I’ve started several businesses over the years and I can assure you that there are always challenges you don’t expect. Aside from natural disasters, the most challenges new businesses have either are with cash flow or personnel issues and sometimes both at once.  In former blogs we have gone over how to approach some of the issues and no matter how much you plan still you will be surprised.

So how to handle ‘surprises’ that are not wanted or expected can be a useful skill. If your business is maintaining good or even Okay cash flow then the issues one needs to handle will be the ones created by those that work for you or with you or those whom outside your business you depend on in one way or another. Sometimes, more than you might want to recognize the “issue” you are troubled by may be a problem not created by someone else but by you.

Take a breath and take this in, we often create our own challenges and sometimes others help us do that or maybe simply throw fuel on the fire for whatever reason. It can be hard to see our part in a situation when the heat is turned up and time is an issue. But this is what we need to do. Stay calm. Stay centered. Stay ready to be flexible while working out a resolution that is fair to all. Of course, sometimes an employee will break the rules and or not learn from their mistakes. It is difficult to let some go once you have gone to all the trouble to vet them in the first place. But this should be the last resort in most cases of incompetency. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and relationships are one of the hardest things to ‘work out’.

In business there can be a middle ground where everyone is OK and ‘wins’ in one way or another. This should be the goal. Giving people a way to “save face” as my Japanese friends use to advise, is a good strategy.  But sometimes confrontations will need to be resolved by letting someone go. If at all possible always let someone go with some from of Grace. What is Grace? Well how would you like to be told you are not going to make the team? Be gracious and yet firm. Have specific reasons and give constructive feedback. No matter how upset the other person may be you can afford to be gracious even if you are terribly disappointed.

Keep on keeping.

We are on a journey…

We are on a journey…

In Mararet J. Wheatley’s latest book, So Far From Home, the reader is taken into the world of right now reality and after that sober encounter then shown a map of how to approach the future. Becoming a warrior for the soul is her approach and it’s an intriguing and challenging idea.

In business one traditional approach is to think that you are at war with the competition. That approach would have you overcome the competition with superior service, products, and with style. Your brand is the brand people must want etc.

I’m from the school that believes that war is not the answer and never was never will be but rather finding ways to cooperate and to compete with yes, great service and products but also with an eye towards fulfilling the customers’ needs.

No doubt business can be a struggle at times and feel like a battle…a battle for survival. Being embattled by the challenges of owning and running a successful business is pretty ‘normal’. So here is the link back to Wheatley, she is saying that we need to build our inner and outer resources to deal with the massive changes coming. She goes into what she means by that but here I will just say that as a business owner you must develop supportive relationships with as many people as you can. Also, you would be well advised to develop your interior strengths as well.

Your resilient character will do more to sustain you than you can imagine. Be confident and be smart about what you are undertaking. Be humble and be open to constructive criticism. Be flexible and yet be true to your values and to your vision. Be grateful at all times and show your gratitude often to those supporting you and your vision. Be a leader by example and acknowledge those around you who take initiative to get things done.

These are simple ideas, easily written down but sometimes easily forgotten.  Keep a way to remind yourself what’s truly important and start your day with a smile on your face. As Mr. Jobs said the joy is in the journey not the destination.

Keep on keeping on…

The Challenge of Ownership

The Challenge of Ownership

Besides the challenges of having enough cash to start and run a business the next big deal is to get the business running well enough that the owner can afford good assistants or partners, and or workers so that the owner can begin to ‘have a life’ beyond the business. Building solid working relationships with employees is key to growth and keeping one’s sanity.

So how do you find and keep good help?

Some small businesses are a family business and whoever is available and ready to work may be your next employee even if they are not the ideal candidate. Most owners will be challenged to find a good assistant or sales person. Here are some tips. You want to find someone slightly over qualified who is truly interested in what the business is and wants to do whatever it is you want them to do. Easy said, I know. But the idea here is whoever you hire they likely will leave when they find a better job somewhere else unless…and this is really important, they have an opportunity to learn and earn more with your firm.

There needs to be a way for a person to both learn to excel at a job and have the chance to grow into having more responsibility and of course, earning more as well. If not you might have an assembly line of first time workers coming through and you will be spending way too much time training each one and managing them and no time to grow the business.

Where to find good people? Depends on what kind of help you need and how much you are will to pay or can afford to pay. But pay is not always the prime issue. If the business has potential for growth and is challenging in a good way, then you will have a better chance at finding ‘good’ help.

Good help can come in all shapes and ages and from every possible background. But it’s the individuals that have a more outgoing personality that often make the best employees if they also want to work.

Can you pick out who wants to work…not out of necessity but out of that’s just how they were made? There are tests to find these kinds of people but often small businesses don’t have the resources to go down that road. Meeting someone and shaking their hand, looking them in the eye and talking with them for 10 minutes should be all the interview you need. Let you gut be your guide. If it feels right to hire them then do so and get on with your business.

Some people are quick learners some not, but if they want to learn it will show in their actions and questions. If they push for more to do that’s a good sign. If they do tasks well and on time then tell them so and invite them to do more.

More on this later…keep on keeping on

A Job Well Done

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When was the last time you experienced ‘a job well done’?

What service or product was it? What was it about that service or product that made you think, “Wow, what a great …”

Can you pin point what it was that was so great? Maybe everything was great.

Friends and I went to a local restaurant, The Five Mile House, outside of Nevada City and had great service, great ambiance, a great meal, and great entertainment at a reasonable price. Each one of us was impressed and will return again…the highest rating a business can get indeed. Not only that, here I am telling everyone what a great time we had. It was so good I had to personally thank the Chef and owner before we left for the evening.

Now, take your business, whatever it is, and think like a customer. Would you give your business a “great” rating? Why or why not? Of course, we like to think everyone would be impressed with our business and its offerings but are you getting those kind of ‘thank you’ comments from clients?

If not, why not?

Surely, there are always improvements to be made, but once you have the right formula for success in your particular business then the business should be flowing and growing. If not then look close at what is going on. Ask your clients for their feedback and take it seriously.

Even with impeccable service and/or products businesses do fail. So looking at the bigger picture is paramount for all owners. Timing, market placement, a unique selling proposition, and clever marketing are also very important aspects of the business. Also, as we have gone into previously, cash flow is king.

The Five Mile House owner had to endure the past 5 year of bust to get to what looks like a profitable place in the crowded food service industry here in the Gold Country. But endure he has and now his hard work is paying off. The growth may be slow but slow steady will when the day in most cases.

Keep on keeping on…

One Small Business Conundrum

One Small Business Conundrum


Those who know say a business has to grow if it is to survive. There may be some exceptions but I want to focus on the proposition of growth as a way to go.

I was fortunate to have been invited into a new business as a person “Friday”. I did whatever was needed from sweeping the floors to answering phones to stocking to testing electronics. Being a card carrying English major I was happy to have the second job. My main work at the time was in Public Relations. The new electronic business was started by a very bright Stanford graduate who knew his way around Silicon Valley just as it was becoming Silicon Valley. Anyway, the team assembled worked well together and sooner than I had expected I was helping in sales and then managing sales. The business was growing mostly in spite of itself just because we were in the right place at the right time with the right services—electronic recycling and distribution.

Three of the that companies’ main players (myself and two others) decided we could go start our own company because the owner was getting more insane each week. And so we did leave and managed to catch some of the same good timing of the markets.

Like most business cycles we had to weather the ups and downs of the electronic industry boom and bust juggernaut. But mostly we grew the company because: 1. We recognized that we needed help, 2. We didn’t want to continue to work 80 plus hour weeks. 3. We could share the wealth and work less, that is, we had a budget that would support hiring support staff.

That was many years ago and I have had the opportunity to start other businesses…smaller businesses mostly and learn that good ideas do not always equal success. Timing and teamwork are more important than ever.

As a small business you need to have a vision of where you want the business to go but perhaps even more important you must know 1. That there is a market for what you want to offer, 2. That you know who will buy and how much they will pay for your offer. 3. And that you must know you will not get there alone…you will need help and you will need to budget for that help.

To grow the service or product you offer must have a future…there must be evolution inherent in your plan to survive. Evolution is the natural order of life. Chaos happens but eventually order comes out on top. So consider the long view when considering your business plan.

Take a look around, notice who has survived the longest in your niche. Notice what they have done well. Some lessons can be learned without spending money. Ultimately you will spend money to make money, so do so wisely by getting help before you need it.

Keep on keeping on…

10 Traits you must have to succeed

NEWS FLASH (You may know this, but let me remind you…)

Investor’s Business Daily has spent years analyzing leaders and successful people in all walks of life. Most leaders have 10 traits that, when combined, can turn dreams into reality.

1. HOW YOU THINK IS EVERYTHING: Always be positive. Think success, not failure. Beware of a negative environment.

2. DECIDE UPON YOUR TRUE DREAMS AND GOALS: Write down your specific goals and develop a plan to reach them.

3. TAKE ACTION: Goals are nothing without action. Don’t be afraid to get started now. Just do it.

4. NEVER STOP LEARNING:  Go back to school or read books. Get training and acquire skills.

5. BE PERSISTENT AND WORK HARD: Success is a marathon, not a sprint. Never give up.

6. LEARN TO ANALYZE DETAILS: Get all the facts, all the input. Learn from your mistakes.

7. FOCUS YOUR TIME AND MONEY:  Don’t let other people or things distract you.

8. DON’T BE AFRAID TO INNOVATE; BE DIFFERENT: Following the herd is a sure way to mediocrity.

9. DEAL AND COMMUNICATE WITH PEOPLE EFFECTIVELY:  No person is an island. Learn to understand and motivate others.

10. BE HONEST AND DEPENDABLE; TAKE RESPONSIBILITY: Otherwise, Numbers 1-9 won’t matter.