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creative:impact - Lost And Found: An Artist’s Year Of Rediscovery After Closing His Business

Paul Hickman
Paul Hickman

It’s been one year since Paul Hickman made the difficult decision to close his creative business Urban Ashes.  As he did on "creative:impact" a year ago, Paul opens up to The Arts Alliance’s Deb Polich and WEMU’s David Fair about his experiences this last year: his unexpected loss of identity and his journey of retooling and rediscovering himself as an artist and designer.  

Deb Polich
Deb Polich, President and CEO of the Arts Alliance

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.  In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of The Arts Alliance, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.


Knowing when to call it quits will likely save you further heartbreak — and lots of money.

Starting a business is tough. But, as some owners have experienced, closing up shop can be even tougher.  While you may hate to admit it — I know I did — it’s emotional.

Paul Hickman
Credit Paul Hickman
Inside Paul Hickman's closed business

Cody McLain, the founder of SupportNinja and digital creative agency WireFuse, describes the moment of letting go beautifully: “Building something from scratch just for it to end up like a sandcastle at the shore waiting for the tide to take it away is what closing shop feels like. It’s not easy, and it hurts your pride more than anything else.”

But knowing when to throw in the towel will save you further heartbreak — and lots of money.  Here are six signs that point to the end, along with accounts from owners who wished they’d seen them sooner.

Signs It’s Time to Close Your Business

1.       You Aren’t Meeting Annual Revenue Projections

2.       Your Personal Health Has Gone South

3.       Your Mission Loses Its Luster

4.       You Love Your Product More Than Your Customers Do

5.       Your Key Employees Are Leaving

6.       ‘Sleep Mode’ Isn’t an Option


After two to three years, it’s time to take your company’s financial temperature.  If you’re still not turning a profit and you’re out of money, this does not mean that it’s time for a loan that puts you further into debt.

Instead, it may be time to seriously consider cutting your losses so you don’t wind up in personal financial trouble.  After all, the whole purpose of incorporating (or having limited liability) is so that your business and personal finances are separate.  The last situation you want to be in is personally repaying a business loan that you can’t afford.

Jo Clarkson, an operations director at The Alternative Board, an organization that provides executive peer advisory boards to businesses, says this scenario is at the top of her alert list.

“One of the biggest red flags is when business owners are personally putting money into the business, especially if they are using a credit card to do so.  It happens more often than you might think,” Clarkson says. “At that point, even if the business has real potential, it’s probably better to find another business that’s making money until you’re ready to give it a go again.”

Taking on that debt doesn’t just hurt your bottom line, either: Clarkson points out that personal financial losses can also be devastating to your family and health.  “It’s better to regroup and start again,” she says. “Accept that you’ve learned a lot of great lessons in the process — then keep plugging away.”


If you find yourself becoming unhealthy — whether through weight gain, weight loss, constant fatigue (which is a big difference from being tired as an excited entrepreneur), or heightened anxiety, then you should evaluate whether your business is worth a decline in your physical and mental health.

Is that dreadful feeling that you used to get in the pit of your stomach before walking into your 9-to-5 — you know, the feeling that caused you to quit your old job and start your business in the first place — the same feeling you get when you walk into your own HQ?  If so, this might also be a serious sign to reconsider at least the direction of your business.

Michael W. Frishberg, co-founder of Cliffside Software, knows this feeling well.  He started his company in 1993 with his brother, running it for seven years before calling it quits in 2000.

After spending two years looking for a buyer, eventually running out of money for payroll, his brother fell ill from being overworked and had to have his large intestine removed in an emergency surgery.  “I found out right before leaving on a three-week sales trip, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever see him again,” Frishberg says.

Anita Laney, CEO of Professional Partnering Solutions, also had a business self-destruct, hurting her family along with it.  “The signs were everywhere, but I didn’t heed them early enough to save my company,” she says.

“My relationship with my partner — in business and in life — was deteriorating.  We couldn’t agree on anything in the office and at home, and we were barely speaking.  Lawsuits ensued, bankruptcy followed and my family was in turmoil.  The emotional and financial hardship of my failed business nearly destroyed me.”


Starting to forget why you started the business to begin with?  This is definitely a sign that your company is heading toward the danger zone.  It could mean one of two things, and both usually lead to the same unfortunate outcome.

First, it could be that your mission is unclear.  If vital checkpoints like objectives and a clear customer are missing, you could be spinning your wheels, spending unnecessary money and still not feeling fulfilled.

Or it could mean that you’ve lost your passion for your mission, one of the biggest propellers when times get tough.  Without this drive, who or what else will push the business forward?

Alan O’Rourke founded and ran a successful design agency for 10 years, and for most of his life design was his “absolute passion.”  But “the day I did not want to go into work (was when) I realized it was not fun to own my company anymore.  On that day, I started planning to throw in the towel.”


Is your business providing a solution that customers are actually looking for?  Or is your company centered on something you care about and really, really want others to care about, too?

If it’s the latter — and you’re not seeing positive feedback through dollar signs — it might be time to shut it down.

Jimi LaSante experienced this firsthand with a mobile gaming business he owned.

“I thought I had the best product in the world and everyone would be falling head over heels in love with it. However, the exact opposite happened,” he says.  “The short-lived honeymoon of starting up fizzled fast. People won’t even download free copies of the flagship game.”

His light bulb moment?  “I finally realized … I was listening to me and not my customers. I was trying to force-feed my idea like they were babies eating strained peas for the first time.”


The saying, “You’re always the last one to know” is especially true when the expert team you built starts to leave.  If this is happening to you, you must ask yourself: Is there something they know that I don’t?  Have my employees tried to tell me something, and I simply didn’t listen?

Pat Council of True Thoroughbred Enterprises in Jacksonville, Florida, says she wishes she would have asked those questions before having to close her last business.  “My key personnel were starting to leave. Everyone in my office could see what I was not willing to see,” she says.  “The morale was low and my attitude toward my agents was indifferent.  I liked them, but was blaming them for not working harder to increase revenue.”


Sleep mode is a dormant status that allows you to slow down your business and resume it at a later date.

“People rarely think of purposefully stagnating their businesses instead of completely throwing in the towel,” McLain says.  “You can completely strip your business down to its bare bones and wait for your market to rebound (if it has boom-and-bust cycles), before coming back strong.”

But there’s a catch: “You have to have an alternative means of income for this to happen, because your business will not be generating any revenue during this time.”  If you’re on the verge of having to close your doors and sleep mode isn’t a viable option, then it’s time to bid your company adieu, thank it for the memories, and move on.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Data

  • About 20 percent of small businesses fail within their first year.
  • By the end of their fifth year, roughly 50 percent of small businesses fail.
  • After 10 years, the survival rate drops to approximately 35 percent.

From the Small Business Administration

What Causes Small Businesses to Fail?

The short answer is, regardless of the industry, failure is the result of either the lack of management skills or lack of proper capitalization or both.

Eleven Common Causes of Failure

  1. Choosing a business that isn't very profitable. Even though you generate lots of activity, the profits never materialize to the extent necessary to sustain an on-going company.
  2. Inadequate cash reserves. If you don't have enough cash to carry you through the first six months or so before the business starts making money, your prospects for Success are not good. Consider both business and personal living expenses when determining how much cash you will need.
  3. Failure to clearly define and understand your market, your customers, and your customers' buying habits.  Who are your customers?  You should be able to clearly identify them in one or two sentences.  How are you going to reach them? Is your product or service seasonal? What will you do in the off-season?  How loyal are your potential customers to their current supplier?  Do customers keep coming back or do they just purchase from you one time?  Does it take a long time to close a sale or are your customers more driven by impulse buying?
  4. Failure to price your product or service correctly.  You must clearly define your pricing strategy. You can be the cheapest or you can be the best, but if you try to do both, you'll fail.
  5. Failure to adequately anticipate cash flow.  When you are just starting out, suppliers require quick payment for inventory (sometimes even COD).  If you sell your products on credit, the time between making the sale and getting paid can be months.  This two-way tug at your cash can pull you down if you fail to plan for it.
  6. Failure to anticipate or react to competition, technology, or other changes in the marketplace.  It is dangerous to assume that what you have done in the past will always work. Challenge the factors that led to your Success.  Do you still do things the same way despite new market demands and changing times?  What is your competition doing differently? What new technology is available?  Be open to new ideas.  Experiment.  Those who fail to do this end up becoming pawns to those who do.
  7. Overgeneralization.  Trying to do everything for everyone is a sure road to ruin. Spreading yourself too thin diminishes quality.  The market pays excellent rewards for excellent results, average rewards for average results, and below average rewards for below average results.
  8. Overdependence on a single customer.  At first, it looks great.  But then you realize you are at their mercy.  Whenever you have one customer so big that losing them would mean closing up shop, watch out.  Having a large base of small customers is much preferred.
  9. Uncontrolled growth.  Slow and steady wins every time.  Dependable, predictable growth is vastly superior to spurts and jumps in volume.  It's hard to believe that too much business can destroy you, but the textbooks are full of case studies.  Going after all the business you can get drains your cash and actually reduces overall profitability.  You may incur significant up-front costs to finance large inventories to meet new customer demand.  Don't leverage yourself so far that if the economy stumbles, you'll be unable to pay back your loans.  When you go after it all, you usually become less selective about customers and products, both of which drain profits from your company.
  10. Believing you can do everything yourself.  One of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs is to let go. Let go of the attitude that you must have hands-on control of all aspects of your business.  Let go of the belief that only you can make decisions.  Concentrate on the most important problems or issues facing your company.  Let others help you out.  Give your people responsibility and authority.
  11. Putting up with inadequate management. A common problem faced by Successful companies is growing beyond management resources or skills.  As the company grows, you may surpass certain individuals' ability to manage and plan.  If a change becomes necessary, don't lower your standards just to fill vacant positions or to accommodate someone within your organization.  Decide on the skills necessary for the position and insist the individual has them.
  12. So, the founder's attitude, ability to be objective, willingness to bring in needed help, and share power are all crucial to success.  "Most startups make the mistake of falling in love with their product or service," says Shukla.  "Ultimately, it is this lack of self-criticism that causes many companies, startups and their more mature counterparts, to fail.  Startups suffer this fate more often because there are more dreamers than doers."
  13. I think that fact speaks for itself," says Jonathan Goldhill, a small-business consultant and former director of an economic development center in California's San Fernando Valley.  "I would say that the primary reason for failure of startups within three years is usually...management's failure to act, or management's failure to react, or management's failure to plan."
  14. Other reasons why businesses fail in their early years include: poor business location, poor customer service, unqualified/untrained employees, fraud, lack of a proper business plan, and failure to seek outside professional advice.
  15. While poor management is cited most frequently as the reason businesses fail, inadequate or ill-timed financing is a close second.  Whether you're starting a business or expanding one, sufficient ready capital is essential.  It is not, however, enough to simply have sufficient financing; knowledge and planning are required to manage it well.  These qualities ensure that entrepreneurs avoid common mistakes like securing the wrong type of financing, miscalculating the amount required, or underestimating the cost of borrowing money.

Top Ten Legal Mistakes Made by Entrepreneurs

10. Failing to incorporate early enough.  One problem that arises here is the so-called "forgotten founder": a partner involved in starting the venture subsequently drops out.  When the venture gets financing or is ready to go public, this partner returns, perhaps with an inflated view of what his or her contribution was, demanding equity.  This problem can be eliminated by incorporating early and issuing shares to the founders, subject to vesting.  As partial consideration for their shares, each founder should be required to assign to the new corporation all inventions and works related to the company's proposed business.

Incorporating early, before significant value has been created and well in advance of any financing event that establishes an implicit value for the shares - also helps prevent potential tax problems for "cheap stock."  Incorporating too late, and issuing inexpensive stock to the founders at the same time that much more expensive stock is being sold to investors, can create tax problems when the IRS argues that the difference in stock price is actually income to the entrepreneur.

9. Issuing founder shares without vesting.  Simply put, vesting protects the members of the founding team who take the venture forward. If people remain on the team and are productive, their shares will vest.  If they leave earlier, that stock can be retrieved and given to whoever is brought in to replace them.

8. Hiring a lawyer not experienced in dealing with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Many venture capitalists say that they often rate the judgment of entrepreneurs by their choice of legal counsel.  Lawyers who have no experience working with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists will most likely focus on the wrong things while failing to recognize some of the more subtle potential traps.  It's better to hire someone who has played the game, who knows what's standard and what isn't, and who will get the deal negotiated and closed promptly.

7. Failing to make a timely Section 83 (b) election.  If the advice in 9 is followed, then shares will be issued, subject to vesting, to the founders as well as new employees.  If stock is acquired and it's subject to what the IRS calls a substantial risk of forfeiture, then the IRS doesn't view the purchase as being closed until that risk goes away. When the stock vests, that risk evaporates, so the IRS considers the deal closed.  The IRS then calculates the difference between the price paid at the outset and the fair market value at that later date, then taxes this difference as ordinary income.  An 83 (b) election allows the tax computation to be made based on the value at the time the shares are issued, which is often pennies per share.

6. Negotiating venture capital financing based solely on the valuation.  Valuation is not the only thing one should consider when selecting a venture capitalist or when negotiating the deal.  There are many other ways for venture capitalists to get compensated if they end up paying a high price for shares.  These include requiring participating preferred with a high cumulative dividend, redemption rights exercisable after only several years, and ratchet anti-dilution protection with no cap.

One must ask, what's the reputation of this firm?  Do they have a history of standing by the entrepreneur if the entrepreneur stumbles?  Do they have good contacts in the industry?  In trying to build alliances, do they know the big players?  A no-name firm offering the highest valuation is often not the best source of equity.

5. Waiting to consider international intellectual property protection.  Patents are granted on a country-by-country basis (with a single application available for the European Union).  In the United States, if an invention is sold or made public, there's a year's grace period to file a patent application. Everywhere else, if the invention is sold or publicized prior to filing the patent application, the invention is unpatentable in that country.  For example, if the invention is publicly disclosed to a Japanese national visiting a tradeshow in the United States, then under Japanese patent law, if no patent application has been filed, that disclosure makes the invention unpatentable in Japan.  The same is true with trademarks.  A tremendous amount of money might be spent in developing a brand in the United States, yet when the product is shipped overseas it could violate trademarks of companies dealing in similar goods outside the United States.  One must make intelligent choices of where they think their markets are, and how much money to spend at an early stage in order to insure that the brand is available in those markets.

4. Disclosing inventions without a nondisclosure agreement, or before the patent application is filed.  If patent protection hasn't been obtained, or in cases where a patent is not available, the only protection is to maintain something as a trade secret.  To do so, one must show that they've taken reasonable steps to keep it secret from competitors.

Is it wise to get potential venture capitalists to sign a nondisclosure agreement?  In the best of all worlds, yes, but most won't.  Before disclosing to anyone, one must learn who has a reputation for integrity in the industry.  In dealing with most people, it's wise to require them to sign nondisclosure agreements.  It needn't be elaborate, but it should say that they acknowledge they may be exposed to trade secrets, and they agree not to use or disclose them without permission.  Business plans should expressly state on the cover page that they are confidential and proprietary.  That's not as strong as a nondisclosure agreement, but laws in some states suggest that if a person knows they have been exposed to a trade secret, they can't use it or disclose it without permission from the owner.

3. Starting a business while employed by a potential competitor, or hiring employees without first checking their agreements with the current employer and their knowledge of trade secrets.  The law is clear that if someone is currently working for a company, particularly if her or she is a key employee, they cannot operate a competing business.  Even just incorporating may spark a lawsuit from the current employer. Would-be entrepreneurs should first go to their current employer and either resign or tell them what they're doing and ask them if they'd be interested in investing.  Amazingly, that's often a very smooth way of ending that relationship.  Under no circumstances should they misrepresent the nature of the new business.

Even after leaving the current employer, one still cannot use or disclose the company's trade secrets.  Under the so-called inevitable disclosure doctrine, if someone has been exposed to trade secrets at their job and leaves to work for someone else, and if their responsibilities in the new job are sufficiently similar, some courts will conclude that it's inevitable that they will use the information that they had from the earlier position.  They could face an injunction prohibiting them from working for the new employer until a number of months go by and whatever trade secrets they had are stale.

It also helps to know whether potential recruits are subject to covenants not to compete.  States vary in terms of how enforceable they are, but one shouldn't assume they are not.  One should also check to see what assignments of inventions might have been signed.  Personnel files should be reviewed, and recruits should check theirs, to be certain that a covenant not to compete or an assignment of inventions wasn't tucked into a signed non-disclosure agreement.

2. Promising more in the business plan than can be delivered and failing to comply with state and federal securities laws.

If someone promises to do something and knows that they can't perform that promise, that's considered fraud. In a business plan, one must make an honest appraisal of what's doable and set forth their assumptions, so the person putting up money can judge whether they are realistic. Can entrepreneurs be sued by their funders for fraud?  Yes.  Trying to squeeze out a little extra valuation by fudging the numbers erodes credibility, makes investors less trusting, and ultimately impairs the ability to get subsequent rounds of financing.

Finally, anyone selling stock or other securities must comply with both the federal and state securities laws by either registering the securities (rare for a start-up) or meeting all the requirements for an applicable exemption.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse.  As one judge put it in a decision upholding criminal convictions for violating the securities laws: "No one with half a brain can offer 'an opportunity to invest in our company' without knowing that there is a regulatory jungle out there."

1. Thinking any legal problems can be solved later.

There's a tendency to think, "Once I get my funding, once I'm up and running, then I've got time to hire the lawyers; right now, I'm running as fast as I can to get my business plan done and raising money."  This is shortsighted logic. Many of the points made here are problems that can't just be patched up later.  Does that mean that one should devote all of their time, effort, and money to the legal issues?  No.  That's a good reason to hire a competent lawyer.  Excellent legal talent can be retained for relatively little money up front at the early stages.  It will cost much less to get it right at the beginning than to try to sort it all out later and correct it.

Why Small Businesses Fail

Success in business is never automatic.  It isn't strictly based on luck - although a little never hurts. It depends primarily on the owner's foresight and organization.  Even then, of course, there are no guarantees.

Starting a small business is always risky, and the chance of success is slim.  According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over 50% of small businesses fail in the first year and 95% fail within the first five years.

In his book Small Business Management, Michael Ames gives the following reasons for small business failure:

·         Lack of experience

·         Insufficient capital (money)

·         Poor location

·         Poor inventory management

·         Over-investment in fixed assets

·         Poor credit arrangements

·         Personal use of business funds

·         Unexpected growth

Gustav Berle adds two more reasons in The Do It Yourself Business Book:

1.       Competition

2.       Low sales

More Reasons Why Small Businesses Fail

These figures aren't meant to scare you, but to prepare you for the rocky path ahead.  Underestimating the difficulty of starting a business is one of the biggest obstacles entrepreneurs face.  However, success can be yours if you are patient, willing to work hard, and take all the necessary steps.

One fact reported by SBA this year has been that "8 of 10 small business start-ups are no longer in existence after five years due to lack of management knowledge and skills."  While I realize that "no longer in existence" does not translate into "absolute failure" it appears that the "8 of 10" is extremely high.  These are troubling statistics.

Six Most Common Blunders That Lead to Failure

Blunder 1: Amount of Effort Exerted

The single most important factor in determining who succeeds and who doesn't is simply the amount of effort exerted.  If you aren't ready and willing to work - and work hard - being an entrepreneur is probably not for you.  For starters, most people are used to working and 8-to-5 job, with a "boss" directing them. When you're in business for yourself, you must have the discipline to work independently.  You must maintain the same work schedule of the same number of hours virtually every day even if you don't have anything scheduled.

Also, many people assume that when they own their own business, they'll be able to work less and take more time off for recreation.  Unfortunately, the opposite is true.  When you run your own business, you usually have to work more hours, not fewer.  You have to be willing to put in long hours and, if necessary, work weekends as well.  This is especially true in the start-up stage.

Blunder 2: Inadequate Financing

A considerable number of people have unrealistic expectations when it comes to the funds needed to start a business.  They often lack the necessary start-up funds and can't come up with adequate financing. Furthermore, a considerable number have virtually no cash or liquid assets and expect either a bank or the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide 100 percent financing.  In most instances, neither a bank nor the SBA will provide someone with financing unless that person is investing a significant portion of his or her own funds, boasts a good credit record and has the means to pay back the loan.

Most people wrongly assume the SBA will provide them with 100 percent financing based solely on their good ideas.  But if someone has no cash at all, it usually reflects poorly on his or her ability to manage finances -something the SBA takes into consideration.  Funds may be derived from cash savings, personal credit lines or family loans.

Blunder 3: Lack of Planning

Another fact rarely considered is that the majority of new businesses fail within a few years mostly due simply to poor planning or no planning at all.  Most people who go into business enter a field related to their current employment or a favorite hobby.  They don't do a market study first to see whether the demand for their product or service is growing, declining or stagnating.

They also fail to allot the proper time for administrative tasks.  Most new business owners assume the majority of their time will be spent producing and marketing their product or service.  Unfortunately, this isn't the case.  An inordinate amount of time is spent on administration - talking on the phone, purchasing supplies and equipment, filling out government forms, and taking care of other mundane duties.  Internet business-to-business services are helping to cut down the time factor of some of these duties; however, it's still a relevant oversight.

Blunder 4: Unrealistic Expectations

Many individuals assume not only that most businesses succeed, but that they're lucrative from the get-go.  This is definitely not the case.  Generally speaking, it usually takes at least a year to develop a profitable business.  The first year's goal is usually earning back your investment.  Even then, the money has to be reinvested in the business.  In other words, in your first year, you should have other sources of income to live on.

Blunder 5: Inability to Commit

Even though most people would like to start their own business, only a small percentage actually do it.  When push comes to shove, most lack the self-confidence to make a decision and act on it.  In order for the business to succeed, they must be able to gather information, weigh the facts and then make a prompt decision.

Blunder 6: Unwillingness to Take Responsibility

A business owner is 100 percent responsible for his or her mistakes.  There's always a risk of a business failure or less-than-expected financial return.  If that should happen to you, you can't blame it on someone else.  If you would like to start a small business, you must thoroughly and objectively analyze the feasibility of your idea.  Failure to do so can have a tremendous personal cost on finances, relationships and family ties.

So What is Business Failure?  How can you tell when your business is going to fail, and make corrective action? Business failure is the last stage of an organization's life cycle.  Organizational decline, leading to failure is characterized by management who has become reactionary.  The result is inadequate or nonexistent planning and inefficient decision-making.  The most common reasons for business to underperform (low productivity, low profits) or fail (bankrupt, cease being) are as follows:

·         Poor cash flow management.

·         Absence of performance monitoring.

·         Lack of understanding or use of performance monitoring information.

·         Poor debtor management. A combination of not paying your debtor on time and not coordinating payments with incoming cash flows.

·         Overborrowing. The company is overleveraged and debt is not being reduced.

·         Over reliance on a few key customers.

·         Poor market research leading to an inaccurate understanding of the target customers wants and needs.

·         Lack of financial skills and planning.

·         Failure to innovate.

·         Poor inventory management.

·         Poor communications throughout the organization.

·         Failure to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses.

·         Trying to go it alone.  Trying to do everything yourself and not seeking external help.  Whether this external help be as simple as hiring additional staff or going to professional services such as a lawyer, accountant, banker or business coach.

·         Younger companies are more likely to go bankrupt because of shortcomings in managerial knowledge and financial management abilities.  In contrast, older firms are more likely to fail because of an inability to adapt to environmental change.  These are the conclusions of a new research paper that examines factors underlying corporate bankruptcies, and compares the main causes of failure between young and old firms.

·         It sounds simple, but the number one reason why businesses succeed or fail is because the business owner did not take the time to conduct a feasibility analysis, market and business plan.  Why?  Sometimes an idea is developed that the business owner thinks is good but no one else does.  Sometimes an idea is formulated that the business owner believes is so good that the potential customers will find it themselves.  And sometimes the business owner thinks that everyone is a potential customer.

·         A clear and consistent finding of prior research is that firms face the highest failure risk when they are young and small.  But if there are factors other than the liabilities of newness and smallness that contribute to firm failure, what are they and how can their influence be mitigated?  From the perspective of the resource-based view of the firm, firms will fail if they are unable to generate self-sustaining levels of organizational rents.  For new firms, the critical challenge then is to establish valuable resources and capabilities before initial asset endowments are depleted.  Among older firms, which have survived the liabilities of newness, it is imperative to ensure that resources and capabilities continue to provide value as the competitive landscape changes.  Thus, we should observe different causal mechanisms between firms that fail early and those that fail at a later stage.  Young failures should be attributable to inadequate resources and capabilities (relative to initial endowments).  Older failures should be attributable to a mismatch between resources and capabilities and strategic industry factors.

·         The main reason for failure is inexperienced management.  Managers of bankrupt firms do not have the experience, knowledge, or vision to run their businesses.  Even as the firm's age and management experience increases, knowledge and vision remain critical deficiencies that contribute to failure.  A second key deficiency occurs in the area of financial management.  Some 71% of firms fail because of poor financial planning.  Three particular problems that arise in this area are an unbalanced capital structure, an inability to manage working capital, and undercapitalization.  Both old and young bankrupt firms suffer this deficiency.  This confirms other findings that initial problems in financial structure are difficult to overcome and continue to haunt firms as they age.  This study suggests that the underlying factor contributing to financial difficulties is management failure rather than external factors associated with imperfect capital markets.  Many bankrupt firms face problems in attaining financing in capital markets; but, it is the internal lack of managerial expertise in many of these firms that prevents exploration of different financing options.

·         In diagnosing the root causes of small firm failure it should not be surprising that this turns out to be the management inefficiency of owner-managers.  In the 1930s in the US, management deficiencies were claimed to be related to business failure by Cover (1933) who said that 'discernible errors in management' were a major cause of retail bankruptcies.  Dun and Bradstreet studies have consistently found that causes due to poor management predominate in failures (Peacock 1985c): US business failures, 92% due to management, US 17,000 business failures, 94% due to management, and Canada 2,598 business failures, 96% due to management.  According to national annual reports under the Bankruptcy Act, internal factors relating to the quality of management are reported as major or contributing causes of failure at least as twice as often as factors external to the firm (Williams 1986; McMahon et. al 1993).  Similarly, business consultants claimed that 90% of business failures were due to management inadequacy (48% incompetence and 42% inexperience).


creative:impact - Starting, Running, And Ending A Creative Business

Paul Hickman

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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