10 ways to murder your company

Sound advice from FT.com on the top 10 ways how to massacre a company, big or small, and believe me I have copiously sinned at various points in my business career as I can identify with a number of these points.

1. Take on too much debt. Companies usually go bust because they owe the bank too much. If you have no borrowings, you can survive a lot. We have lived through an era where it made sense to borrow and buy if you could; now everything has changed, and certain lenders are taking no prisoners. If there are problems looming, move early to raise capital. If you leave it too late, there may be nothing left to save.

worriedguy2. Choose the wrong business partner. Plenty of companies hit the wall thanks to disputes between owners. It happens even between siblings. If you go into business with someone, be cautious before taking the plunge and have a proper subscription agreement – and keep communicating, even if you disagree.

3. Become overdependent on one customer. Most small non-consumer businesses have just a few clients. If they lose a big one, they are likely to fall into sharp loss. The answer is to diversify if you can, and try your best to be an irreplaceable supplier so that you can never be dumped.

4. Get ill. Many small businesses sink because the founder gets sick or injured, and therefore can’t work. So take exercise, eat sensibly, drink in moderation, stop smoking, buy insurance and try to plan management cover in the event of an accident or other enforced absence.

5. Make a mess of a major IT project. I have seen companies hit the rocks because they spent fortunes on computer systems that did not function properly. I’m not suggesting you never invest in technology, but make sure you take expert advice, and embark on such a move only when the time is right.

6. Get into a price war. Companies frequently undertake suicidal contests with rivals in a desperate attempt to seize market share. This tends to be a zero-sum game that benefits customers only, and leaves the operator with the least cash broke. I prefer to sell on quality or other differentials. Discounting is a dangerous pursuit.

7. Sign a burdensome property lease. I have witnessed many professional services companies go under because they signed a long-term lease on too much office space at the wrong rent – and then revenues collapsed. It must be the main reason for accountancy, law and architecture firms having to dissolve. Now would be a great time to start such a business if you can generate the orders.

8. Forget your customers. I am constantly surprised at how often one experiences poor service, especially in competitive fields. Almost everything is a repeat business, and if you are treated badly by someone, you don’t purchase from them again – and you tell your friends not to go there too.

9. Never evolve. Successful companies can fall into the trap of saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to every innovation that comes along. They grow complacent and allow newcomers to eat their lunch. Long-term winners are always improving, questioning, adapting. No commercial formula lasts for ever.

10. Don’t bother investing. Certain proprietors strip their business of every penny of cash, starving them of capital. But every undertaking requires maintenance and refreshment – otherwise the facilities grow tired and inefficient, and new product development evaporates. If you dividend everything out, you will eventually discover that you own a wasting asset.

By Luke Johnson – FT.com · heads up by Guy Kawasaki

Let me add an 11th point which I am currently suffering from and am actively seeking advice to redress:

11. Don’t have an HR policy. Treat every employee differently, put them on arbitrary pay scales and use haphazard methods of evaluation.

I am convinced that every company, no matter how small, must have an HR manual or written set of procedures and regulations so that employees know what they could expect from a company and know without a shadow of a doubt that they are being treated fairly with a good chance of progress.

I’m sure there are many more factors too like not investing in staff training, not being communicative, not being fair etc, but the 11 points above I think are the most important.

Do you have any others you can contribute?

  • Faris
    25 November 2009

    good check list!

  • Desert Island Boy
    28 November 2009

    This is really ironic that you put up this list. “Dubai World” (backed by their government) just announced it’s Eid gift to the world is “Umm, we took on too much debt, parked it all on one corner of the roulette wheel and well, the casino hasn’t closed yet; oh, you say it HAS closed? The party is over? In that case, can we push on for about six months?”

    The reason I bring this up, is that the list that you have holds truth at nearly every level of business, whether you sell lemonade on the street corner or run General Electric.

    My contributions to the list (if anyone cares) are
    – Plan for the rosiest scenario. Prepare for absolutely nothing.
    – Focus more on talking than on doing.
    – No matter what happens, it is always someone else’ responsibility.

    • mahmood
      28 November 2009

      What? You mean the “policy” of build it and they’ll come actually doesn’t work and doesn’t make sense?


      • J.M. Heinrichs
        1 December 2009

        Only if you are a Canadian writing about baseball.


  • syedsaifullah
    30 November 2009

    hello sir iam indian since six months here and presently working in garage they are saying that pls.leave and check any other job and another thing iwant to work any oganisation and iam sincere in my work and if ido not i will try learn and i will do pls kindly check

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