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How to make a business fail
Lessons from the frontline

 12:08 am on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

I've been thinking about this subject a fair bit lately, partly due to a nasty recent experience [webmasterworld.com]. For those of you who offered advice, I'm happy to say that I've moved on to a different outfit, and managed a 50% pay increase from the experience - and I'm doing WAY more interesting work.

Now, making a business fail is easy, and you don't actually have to put any effort into it yourself. Macroeconomic conditions can sneak up on you, competition can blindside you, a single rogue employee [en.wikipedia.org] can empty even the biggest pockets.

But if you actually want to make a business fail, here are some tips and tricks from things I've witnessed over the years. Now, any one of these things might not be enough to make your business fail, so try different combinations out. Usually, if you combine two or three of these things together, you can successfully tank even the hardiest of enterprises.

1. Make your business plan as vague as possible: Details are for wimps. Fly by the seat of you pants and make everything up as you go along. Mission statements are a great start here - "We're in the business of quality provisioning." Don't mention what you're provisioning, how you're going to provision it, or exactly how you define quality.

2. Change your business plan often: If you made the mistake of creating a reasonable business plan, make sure you change it often. Weekly if necessary. It keeps the staff, and your customers, on their toes, constantly guessing at exactly what the heck it is you're up to.

3. Cost analysis is for wimps: Cost analysis is such a downer. Concentrate on your "projected revenue stream" - that's a much happier number. By doing this you will be able to completely avoid realizing that you're spending $2.00 to make $1.50

4. Be absent: Just because it's your business doesn't mean you actually want to show up. Pop by once a weak or so just to remind yourself of how to get there and open the door, in case you need to loot equipment, office supplies, or the staff coffee fund.

5. Never answer the phone: and make sure your employees understand that lowly peon staff shouldn't be talking to the outside world either. Customers are annoying, all they ever want is stuff or service, and that just leads to more work for you. Vendors are even worse. Sure, they might send you stuff, but they always want something in return. Usually money. Dag nabbit, you worked too hard at doing nothing for your money, why should you just "give it away" to people who send you stuff?

6. Avoid dealing with emails: See above.

7. Finance Everything: That's why God invented the charge card. Get lines of credit from the bank, Venture Capital, Angel Investors, hit up Mom, Dad, and every friend or relative who'll still answer your calls. You're a man of action, an idea man, why the heck should you put your own money on the line?

8. Make your "personal assistant" the highest paid employee: And by "personal assistant" I mean mistress/boy toy. You wouldn't want your husband/wife to realize just how much money your throwing at your fling on the side, so support your affair with company finances. Sure, your staff are going to figure out that the highest paid employee is someone without any real skills, doesn't do any work, and shows up about as often as you do (and usually in the same vehicle), but that's none of their problem.

9. Skip paychecks intermittently: Nothing says disloyalty more than that bugger who takes off the first time you fail to make payroll. Dagnabbit, you have a VISION, and if your staff can't go hungry for your vision, then you just don't want them around. Make sure you do other things, like spring surprise unpaid "downtime" on them. They'll appreciate an unscheduled week off without pay.

10. Delay expense reimbursement: Truly loyal staff will be happy to shell out their own cash to keep the business going. The longer you stall reimbursing them, the happier they'll be.

11. Buy nothing but the best: for yourself. Your staff can get by on whatever supplies they can beg or scrounge from the alley behind your shop. But you, you're a man of vision, and deserve nothing but the best. Use company finances to lease expensive vehicles, buy matching 52" plasma screens for you and your mistress/boy toy (see #8), and import exotic knick-knacks from overseas. You deserve it.

12. Book-keeping is a pain, so why bother? Numbers make your brain hurt, that's not what you went into business for. Keeping track of invoices, accounts receivable, accounts payable... Who cares? It's all going to balance out in the end, right?

13. Involve as many staff as you can in shady business deals: Everyone sells containers of e-waste to China for beer money, there's nothing wrong with it. Changing date codes is just business as usual. And all that "discount equipment" you bought off Tony the Twitch? Get your staff to help unload it. Any staff who quit over a crisis of conscious, well, you didn't want them around anyway. Make sure you threaten them on the way out the door so they won't report you to the authorities.

14. Constantly question your staff's loyalty: Pick on one person every time you show up and question their loyalty in front of the rest of the staff. Works wonders for morale.

15. Divide and conquer your staff: Make sure when you're one on one with a staff member, you buoy them up, and cut down all the other staff. It's not like your staff hang out together, work together, and swap notes. Keep them in a constant state of distrust of each other.

Did I miss anything?

Remember, anyone can repeat successful habits. It takes grit to learn from your mistakes, and the mistakes of others.



 1:09 am on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

Change Your Mind Constantly: If people know ahead of time what you're going to tell them, they are going to stop asking you. (Well, that could be a good thing- see items 5 & 6 and apply to employees.) You should keep employees on their toes by making sure they don't have a clue about what you expect from them.

Keep 3 sets of books: If you don't abide by rule #12, at least cover your back with 2 extra sets of books. Everyone knows that shady companies have 2 sets of books- the real books and the ones they show to auditors. Go one better and make up yet another set of books. That way you have the real set, the auditor set, and the dummy "real" set that the police find when they raid you looking for your second set of books.

Avoid Trivial Details: Don't waste your time trying to keep track of meaningless dates like tax deadlines, domain expiration dates, and court appearances.


 3:19 am on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

I really don't like when an article is written in this way...
Why you americans like this style?

4. Be absent: Just because it's your business doesn't mean you actually want to show up. Pop by once a weak.....

Don't hurry to learn spelling. Nobody cares whether you write properly or not, specially your clients.
Did I learn it? lol


 11:26 am on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

I think you need more focus on morale, beginning with the obvious overview position

A) Depress morale at every opportunity. You don't need quitters. Every one knows the creative, highly motivated types work best when they can barely face the prospect of going to work

B) Shout at someone every day. Your employees are secretly working to undermine you. Make sure they know that you know this by berating them in front of colleagues, preferably over something that doesnt warrant it- ideally where you have got the wrong end of the stick in the first place

C) Redefine SOPs on-th-fly. Who cares what the definition of 'procedure' is, let alone the process it applies to. Shout at someone for not enforcing the company line one day, then again for enforcing the company line and thereby losing a customer the next.

D) Paralyse your staff. Force all decisions to go through yourself, but make sure you never actually make any. Blame your staff for anything that has subsequently not been dealt with. Shouting will be in order, preferably in front of everybody.

E)Humiliate your staff. This often involves shouting (see B above). Make sure everyone knows who is to blame when something small goes wrong. Conversely, never admit fault if something big goes wrong. Indeed, redefine SOPs so nothing actually did go wrong (see C)


 3:02 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

That was fantastic grelmar!

Very entertaining and true. Sounds like you have some "issues" in your workplace.


 3:30 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

LoL Rugles, yah, I had some issues with my previous employer. My new outfit, though, is great - a bunch of people much smarter than I, working on interesting problems.

I love working with people who know more than I do, so much opportunity to learn and advance the skill set.


 9:14 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

wow... I'm wondering if we have worked in the same places :D

Great, great post. Fortunately now, I'm working with good people.


 1:24 am on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

Reminds me of one or two business clients in my days as a young bank clerk. The owners all drank with our manager so their credit lines never dried up.


 2:36 am on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

25. Learn from your mistakes, and repeat them exactly
This is the cardinal rule of really lousing things up.

26. Operate a "No Blame Culture"
This a great system; if there's no blame, then there's no excuse for the sob's colleagues not to point the finger. No blame - blame's for wimps. But revenge at the first opportunity. Once staff get to realise what you're doing, and how they helped you, morale really plummets.

27. Don't ask staff and customers for feedback - hire consultants.
After all, what do staff know? And who cares what the customer thinks? Keep spending on consultants, and you'll never want for flattery ever again; they'll interview YOU, work out what you want to hear, and tell you! And get paid!


 4:02 am on Dec 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

28. Engage your staff in endless meetings
... and they donot know what the heck that was all about.


 4:30 am on Dec 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

29. Having a "personal assistant"


 6:15 pm on Dec 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

Hey Grelmar, did we used to work together?

30. Never give written directions, even for major projects. Instead get hyped on caffeine and describe what you want mostly with arm gestures. Don't review projects in progress. When you see the final product, tell staff they're idiots who never listen.


 6:33 pm on Dec 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

31. Develop an extensive vocabulary of technospeak, the latest buzz words, and arcane idioms. Use often and avoid using other words in context that may allow people to understand the meanings of those words. Make sure that everyone knows each latest idea is the new paradigm shift.


 12:37 pm on Dec 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

32 Do not carry out any credit control when granting 30 day accounts.

33 Do not chase outstanding invoices.


 3:14 pm on Dec 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

34 If you want advice on how to ruin (sorry, run) your business, ask at a forum or newsgroup.

If they don't tell you what you wanted to hear, try another, and another, and another - sooner or later, you'll get the advice you seek, and be able to watch your business glide down the plughole safe in the knowledge that you really, really tried hard to get good advice (except that you didn't!).


 4:03 pm on Dec 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

35 Hire an idiot bully manager or a gremlin?


 4:27 pm on Dec 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

Make sure that everyone knows each latest idea is the new paradigm shift.

Valuable advice, however I'd go further:

A single use of the word "paradigm" confirms your credentials as a "merchant banker".

Try it with your next client.


 4:35 pm on Dec 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

Heh, this is a great topic!

How to make a business fail.

Let the owner become hands on in the operations of the website. 9 out of 10 times it fails.


 5:26 pm on Dec 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

grelmar, I am happy to hear you've moved on and found a new gig after your recent troubles [webmasterworld.com].

I have one to add:

36. Dont do any marketing.
We all know that Google hardly did any traditional media marketing, and look at them. And I want to be as successful as GOOG, hence I'll copy their strategy. Not advertising will save a lot of coin, too.


 9:13 pm on Dec 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

But there's a prequel to that:

Establish that your site has nothing original, interesting or useful ... then ... see 36


 10:04 pm on Dec 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

Cute thread... I take issue with number one though...

1. Make your business plan as vague as possible: Details are for wimps. Fly by the seat of you pants and make everything up as you go along.

Doing exactly that has won me all manner of successes over the years. Never underestimate the power of flexibility.

The internet is starting to mature but it's far from there yet. Making things up as they go along is exactly what the vast majority of successful web businesses have done.

37. Always start with investors. Spend as much as possible up front. It is irrelevant that you and a few other competent people can complete the entire project without investing anything but time. If you don't have 20 employees, catered snacks and an in house hockey rink you're not a real business.


 10:19 pm on Dec 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

You were around in the dot com boom; they fell like flies after fly spray :)


 11:37 pm on Dec 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

This thread deserves printing for close reading later. ;-)


 12:35 am on Dec 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

38. Hire students who aren't really interested in the job
Because what you really want is to spend the next several months trying to motivate them to get work done, only to have them flip back to surfing digg the moment you turn your back. End of the month, you ask why they're not meeting their quotas, and they just stare back at you like you're asking them the square root of negative PI, and you know they're silently wondering how many more paychecks they can get out of you before you fire them.


 1:39 am on Dec 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

40. Have the biggest overhead costs possible by renting, buying or finance the biggest and best of everything that you might remotely need to run your business. The bigger the office/facility you have the more money you make, right?


 4:34 am on Dec 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

41. Maintain a management-to-worker ratio of at least 3:1
I once worked for an agency where there were 3 people doing development work, being managed by an executive staff of 10, plus one guy doing sales and customer service. It was intolerable... and they soon met a most predictable fate (p.s. after I left, the ratio became 5:1)


 4:38 am on Dec 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

Not for me no matter what circumstance, your work has to be true and valid but I am reminded of this poem....

"Yet each man kills the thing he loves, from all let this be heard. Some does it with a bitter look, some with a flattering word. The coward does it with a kiss the brave man with the sword"

Oscar Wilde


 9:25 am on Dec 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

If it is a Web Biz and you Have only 1 website, Blog Spam it!

See how fast your Biz Fails then


 9:28 am on Dec 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

42. Speak "Technogeek" learned from the liberal media in soundbytes that make Wall Street Drool.

After all, appearance is everything.

kamikaze Optimizer

 9:31 am on Dec 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

LOL, it all reminds me of how rewarding working for yourself can be.

This 41 message thread spans 2 pages: 41 ( [1] 2 > >
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