Category Archives for "Failure"

Never stop dreaming

Why Does Business Development Matter?

When I started my own business, I had no idea what I was going to do.  I knew I had no idea; what attracted me was lifestyle.  I wanted freedom to live my life as I chose.  I was at the earliest stage of business development.

So, I started as a website designer.  It’s been a journey, working out what I do – what I offer that people value. 

As I grew in understanding of website design, I worked out websites are always about marketing something, if not a business, a cause.  As I read about marketing I found much of it familiar from my time in community development.  We didn’t call it marketing.  When you have no funds and little influence, you need to communicate your message and respond to objections.

The next phase was to position myself amongst others who sell marketing.  Any viable business encounters competition.  I chose storytelling in marketing as a key area based on my experience in community development and my observations about how marketing is itself marketed.

It has been a long journey and a journey every business owner takes.

Why do most things fail?  The most likely reason is covered in this post.  It is important to understand the stage of business development you are at.  Not every technical fix works for businesses at every stage of development. 

A common problem is using methods that work for businesses at later stages.  It is also possible to be stuck with a method that worked when your business was at an earlier stage.

Five Stages of Business Development

Let’s review five stages of business development.  Five is not a magic number.  Five offers a helpful rule of thumb.  It is always possible to go deeper if you need to.

Stage 1: Dreaming

At this stage, you work out your business purpose.  Why are you in business?  Use trial and error.  Try things until you find something that works.

This stage can be swift or slow (years slow).  Sometimes it takes a while to work out not just your strengths but what you can meet from your market’s needs.

You can make money at this stage and indeed you must be in business.  How else can you test an idea to see whether it is viable?

Once you turn over a few thousand a year, you are ready to move to stage 2.

Stage 2: Marketing and Selling

At this stage you work out how to market and sell products and services.  If you cannot sell over a cup of coffee, you cannot sell online.  You need to know, through conversations with potential customers, what sells; work out how to get them to sit down with you over coffee.

Move to stage 3 when you feel under pressure to meet the demands of your customers.  By then you may be turning over a few tens of thousands.

Stage 3: Capacity Building

This is the stage most successful businesses reach.  Some pass through this stage with an eye to stages 4 and 5.  Others are content at stage 2 but wish to perhaps find more time by becoming more efficient.  This is not the place to go into detail but the main ways to build capacity are:

  • Automation – now you can sell online!
  • Increased prices
  • Buying in services
  • Employment of staff

Many use all four and so likely turnover is intermediate tens of thousands, up to the UK VAT threshold, perhaps. 

Stage 4: Mass Market

This is where you move out of your niche and build a mass market.  Whilst you must remain faithful to your business purpose (success is a frequent reason businesses lose their way) now you sell something with mass appeal.  You offer any flavour so long as it is vanilla.

This stage does not appeal to everyone. 

Stage 5: Guru Status

Now you sell more than one line to a mass market.  You are recognised by other businesses as the leader in the market. 

Reasons for Failure

Stage of business development is a frequent reason for failure because there are many ways of losing track of where you are.  Here are a few.

First, you leapfrog to a later stage.  This is a frequent issue for people starting out.  They are new to the marketplace and watch what others do.  Everyone’s going to a workshop about Facebook marketing and so you tag along.  It’ll work if you have something to sell and Facebook is right for your market.  If you don’t, maybe you are getting into Facebook too early. 

Another common problem is early success.  You can leapfrog stages 1 and 2 and go directly to 3.  This might happen where someone stumbles on something easy to sell.  They set up a business and it does well, requires loads of staff and shows great growth.  But what happens when demand falls? Now you have the responsibility of employing staff but no clear business purpose and no idea how to market or sell anything else. 

It is also possible to forget stages 1 and 2, if you are contemplating a move to stage 4.  The temptation at this stage is to compromise on quality.  Does compromise further your business purpose? 

Finding Solutions

My purpose in this series of posts is to identify likely reasons for failure.  It is not to suggest solutions.  Why? Every business is different.  What works for one business is a disaster for another. 

What can you do?  It helps to begin with two questions:

  1. How well do you know your own business?
  2. Do you know the stage of development your business is at? Whatever the reason for failure, it is coloured by the stage of business development. 


Get a coach or non-directive consultant.  A good coach not only boosts your brain power (two heads are better than one!) but sees your business from a different perspective.  It is easy to get locked into one way of seeing things.  Tell yourself a story and the story enchants you.  Sometimes the perspective you take has obvious flaws; obvious when they are pointed out! 

A coach helps you find the perspective to move your work on.  For this reason, the coach need not be an expert in the business you occupy.  You need to be nudged, you don’t need someone to do the work for you!

Technical Solutions

Technical solutions are great so long as you choose the right ones.  For example, Facebook marketing might be the solution you seek.  It’s a proven method.  Go to a workshop on this topic and you find other business owners there too.  They’re there because it is a good, proven method.

Spend no more time on Facebook marketing than you need to eliminate it from your enquiries.  Putting time, money and energy into the wrong solution destroys your business.  If Facebook marketing destroys your business, it is not the fault of Facebook marketing.

Most likely, it is not appropriate to your stage of business development.  There may be other reasons it does not work.  But consider whether what you are trying to do right now is best helped by marketing through Facebook.


Stage of business development is an important element in the context of failure.  But businesses fail for other reasons and it is important to understand how context influences the solutions we bring to our business.

desert landscape

Failure: Why Most Things Don’t Work

I was a community development worker for over 30 years and when I started in 1980, I was totally unsuited to the role.  I had been a research scientist, I was deeply introverted and terrified of relating to people.  I was also terrified of failure.

What I had to offer though was problem-solving.  When faced by a crisis, I stayed with it and took up the challenge.  Often I was surrounded by activist people who asked me for an interpretation of what was happening.  “What are our options?” 

I found I am highly perceptive but weaker at judgement.  When I trusted others with my insights, things were more likely to go well.  It took me a long time to learn not to take charge but to build trust in my insights.

Fear of Failure

Why was I so afraid of failure?  Partly it was being employed.  I wanted to please my employers and keep my job – or receive good references.  Therefore success was essential.  My defensiveness meant I took ages to understand one simple fact:

Most Things Don’t Work!

Once I understood this I became more confident.  I understood my strengths and managed the expectations others had of me.  I stopped trying to take command and focussed on finding and supporting leaders.  This didn’t always work (of course) but I was no longer stressed by failure – now it was part of the job.  I learned how to manage expectations – that community development is more about building relationships than it is about managing projects.

Now I am self-employed I find the same insights apply equally to business.

How Failure Works

The path to success is through repeated failure.  Look closely at anyone’s story of business success and you find long periods of failure.  Typically these are at the beginning of a successful business.  Frequently, an initial success is followed by a long period of not very much happening. 

No-one experiences success without failure.  The confidence of successful people comes from their overcoming of failure and not their ultimate success.  Success is a small island at the far side of a wilderness of failure.  You might never find the island or perhaps not recognise it when you do!

There are people who are born lucky, who inherit wealth and can afford expensive failure.  They are not “annealed by suffering” and often display zero emotional intelligence.  Is this success or a monumental failure?  We all know what happens when they get their hands on the levers of power. 

I’ve written about these immortals before.  Don’t think they are only billionaires with social media accounts.  I’ve met them leading community groups and churches.  Why immortals?  They believe they are indispensable.  It is as if they will never die (until they do). 

Those who experience failure learn grit, determination and humility.  Now they are ready of success. 

A Taxonomy of Failure

This sequence of blog posts explores what goes wrong.  So far I have 15 sources of failure.  Surely there are more?  Here is my list – I’ll update them as we go.  If you know of others, leave a comment and perhaps I’ll add them to the list!  Maybe I’ll ask you to write a guest post!  I’ll add links to each post as I publish them.

  1. Stage of business development
  2. Context
  3. Clear about business purpose – three aims.
  4. Your Worldview
  5. Not Knowing: Why?
  6. Conflict
  7. Lack of persistence
  8. Poor Positioning
  9. Pitiful Pricing
  10. Lack of Confidence
  11. My Market is Everyone
  12. Technical solutions
  13. Too theoretical
  14. Quality or Quantity?
  15. Financial Mismanagement