Why Some Businesses Fail and Where to Get Help

Why Do Some Businesses Fail?

If you’ve paid attention to the occupancy of shopping malls over a few years, you’ve noticed that retailers come and go with surprising frequency. The same thing happens with restaurants—indeed, with all kinds of businesses. By definition, starting a business—small or large—is risky, and though many businesses succeed, a large proportion of them don’t. The most recent, official statistics for Canada, from 2013, report the following for the births and deaths of SMEs. Consult the table below or find the equivalent, text information from Industry Canada. Note: These statistics do not deal directly with entrepreneurs, but with small and medium enterprises or SMEs.

As disappointing as these statistics on business survival are, some industries are worse than others. If you want to stay in business for a long time, you might want to avoid some of these risky industries. Even though your friends think you make the best pizza in the world, this doesn’t mean you can succeed as a pizza parlour owner. Opening a restaurant or a bar is one of the riskiest ventures (and, therefore, start-up funding is hard to get).

You might also want to avoid the transportation industry. Owning a taxi might appear lucrative until you find out what a taxi license costs. It obviously varies by city, but in New York City the price tag is upward of $400,000. No wonder taxi companies are resisting Uber and Lyft with all the energy they can muster. And setting up a shop to sell clothing can be challenging. Your view of “what’s in” may be off, and one bad season can kill your business. The same is true for stores selling communication devices: every mall has one or more cell phone stores so the competition is steep, and business can be very slow.[1]

Businesses fail for any number of reasons, but many experts agree that the vast majority of failures result from some combination of the following problems:

  • Bad business idea. Like any idea, a business idea can be flawed, either in the conception or in the execution. If you tried selling snow blowers in Hawaii, you could count on little competition, but you’d still be doomed to failure.
  • Cash problems. Too many new businesses are underfunded. The owner borrows enough money to set up the business but doesn’t have enough extra cash to operate during the start-up phase, when very little money is coming in but a lot is going out.
  • Managerial inexperience or incompetence. Many new business owners have no experience in running a business; many have limited management skills. Maybe an owner knows how to make or market a product but doesn’t know how to manage people. Maybe an owner can’t attract and keep talented employees. Maybe an owner has poor leadership skills and isn’t willing to plan ahead.
  • Lack of customer focus. A major advantage of a small business is the ability to provide special attention to customers. But some small businesses fail to seize this advantage. Perhaps the owner doesn’t anticipate customers’ needs or keep up with changing markets or the customer-focused practices of competitors.
  • Inability to handle growth. You’d think that a sales increase would be a good thing. Often it is, of course, but sometimes it can be a major problem. When a company grows, the owner’s role changes. He or she needs to delegate work to others and build a business structure that can handle the increase in volume. Some owners don’t make the transition and find themselves overwhelmed. Things don’t get done, customers become unhappy, and expansion actually damages the company.

Some Canadian Considerations

This chapter provided some solid, foundational knowledge on entrepreneurship. But take a few moments to see who might be left behind in the growth of entrepreneurship.

Key Takeaways – Important terms and concepts

  1. An entrepreneur is someone who identifies a business opportunity and assumes the risk of creating and running a business to take advantage of it.
  2. The three characteristics of entrepreneurial activity are innovating, running a business, and risk taking.
  3. A small business is independently owned and operated, exerts little influence in its industry, and has fewer than one hundred employees.
  4. An industry is a group of companies that compete with one another to sell similar products. There are two broad types of industries, or sectors: the goods-producing sector and the service-producing sector.
  5. Once you decide to start a business, you’ll need to create a business plan—a document that identifies the goals of your proposed business and explains how it will achieve them.

  1. Farrell, M. (2007). Risky Business: 44% of Small Firms Reach Year 4. Forbes. Retrieved from: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16872553/ns/business-forbes_com/t/risky-business-small-firms-reach-  year/#.Tl_xVY7CclA


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