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At one point or another, a business owner will make one or more of the five mistakes listed below. These are not death sentences or slights to those making them. They’re warnings to heed as they can spawn further problems if not addressed, writes Ryan Caligiuri (nikkytok/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
At one point or another, a business owner will make one or more of the five mistakes listed below. These are not death sentences or slights to those making them. They’re warnings to heed as they can spawn further problems if not addressed, writes Ryan Caligiuri (nikkytok/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Commentary

Five ways to kill your small business Add to ...

For quite some time now, I’ve had an internal debate about whether I should write this column. I worried that some readers would feel as if I was disrespecting those that I have the utmost respect for in this world – business owners.

But after several conversations with entrepreneurs and CEOs, I came to the conclusion that it’s best to share common mistakes in order to help others recognize them before they become bigger problems.

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At one point or another, a business owner will make at least one of the five mistakes listed below. Personally, as an executive in a startup and an entrepreneur, I know that I’ve been guilty of all five of these mistakes at one point in my career. These are not death sentences or slights to those making them. They’re warnings to heed as they can spawn further problems if not addressed.

1. Running 100 miles an hour without refuelling. Nearly all owners do what they can to build and sustain their businesses. They are masters of multitasking, put in more than 10 hours a day, work seven days a week and, despite this investment of time, still don’t get ahead as much as they should.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many CEOs and entrepreneurs get stuck in this pattern. Because they don’t get ahead, they often burn out or lose their drive and passion. If you find yourself in a similar position, learn to identify tasks you can delegate or stop doing altogether so that you can focus on those of higher value.

Also, there’s nothing wrong with taking some time away from the business to refocus and get that energy boost you need to continue driving forward.

Consider the story of the two lumberjacks: The red lumberjack worked constantly, never taking any rest. He’d watch as the blue lumberjack took breaks and rested at certain points in the day. At the end of the day however, the blue lumberjack had more piles of cut wood before him. How could this be, since the red lumberjack did not rest and continued to work with such diligence?

Confused, the red lumberjack asked: "I cannot understand why you have more wood split than I do. You’re smaller than I and I put in far more time than you!"

The blue lumberjack replied: “You never stopped to sharpen your axe."

2. Trying to be Wonder Woman or Superman. Let’s face it, running a business is about going into unknown territory and if you’re expecting to know all the answers, you’re going to be holding yourself back.

As a business owner, you’ll be faced with a number of setbacks, so instead of taking it on yourself to solve them alone, leverage the brainpower of your employees and management team. The power of collaboration is something many great business owners have used to help take pressure off of themselves.

Now, it’s important to know the difference between collaboration and consensus when seeking opinions from employees and management. You’re not necessarily looking for the most popular opinion, or the one that comes from your most senior employee. Instead, you’re looking to source as many opinions as possible before you decide for yourself.

When I find myself trying to be Superman, attempting to solve all problems myself, I’m reminded of the great words spoken by Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

3. Making life more difficult than it needs to be. With a wide array of consultants, business books and different ideas coming into the organization every week, I understand how easy it can be to make things more challenging than they need to be.

Remember the old acronym K.I.S.S: keep it simple stupid. You’re in business to serve your customer, so be sure to serve their needs and make certain your employees are equally as driven to serve them. All business starts with the customer. Do you understand their needs? Does your product or service meet their needs? Are you maintaining their level of satisfaction?

If you take good care of your customers, share their stories to the marketplace and get referrals from them, you’ll undoubtedly do very well for yourself as you build a strong foundation with which everything else can be built upon.

4. Forgetting to celebrate successes Every day, people are working to sign new clients, complete projects, maintain the culture and an assortment of other tasks. With all of this activity going on, how often do you recognize the work employees and management are doing to either manage or drive the organization forward?

A lack of recognition can really dull momentum, kill ambition, lower employee engagement and build apathy throughout the organization. I’ve seen it happen far too many times not to believe that this is a serious problem in small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

The funny thing is that this is very easy to fix: Share your successes in a newsletter, company meeting or impromptu town hall meeting to ensure you give recognition to those who deserve it. Each occurrence should be an opportunity to thank employee(s) for their continued commitment to execution and success and to inspire others to reach for the same recognition in their roles.

5. Letting poor performers slide. In every organization, high performers drive the business forward. I don’t know many SMBs that can afford to keep an employee on payroll who’s not meeting her objectives on a consistent basis. While I understand the importance of patience and investing in employees with the hope that they grow into a role, I’ve seen many disasters occur because of poor performers that affect everything from productivity and culture, to customer satisfaction and revenue potential.

Although it can be difficult in larger organizations, leaders need to ensure that everyone in the organizational hierarchy understands that high performance is the status quo. There should be checks and measures in place to keep a finger on the pulse of employee performance throughout the organization.

Many point to Jack Welch’s Vitality Model of the ‘20-70-10’ system, where you categorize the top 20 per cent of employees, who are the most productive, the 70 per cent that work adequately, and are considered vital to the organization, and the remaining 10 per cent as, well, the non-producers. They should be fired immediately.

My challenge to you

As I said, I’m guilty of making all five of these mistakes at some point in my career. I know how detrimental each one was to my performance and the success of my businesses. If you’re a business owner, take a moment to think about these points and determine if you are making any of these mistakes. If so, then do yourself, your business, your employees and your customers a favour and correct them one-by-one as soon as you can.

Your business and your life will be better for it.

Ryan Caligiuri is the founder of Ryan Caligiuri International, a growth consultancy focused on developing programs that generate credibility, competitive advantages, leads/demand and new revenue streams for small to medium-sized enterprises. Mr. Caligiuri is also the founder of The Growth Network, a mentoring program that teaches entrepreneurs and marketers best practices, frameworks and strategies to become business growth generators.

Engage with Mr. Caligiuri on Twitter.

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