How not to be one of the 90% of businesses that fail within 5 years

Government statistics show that 90% of small businesses close before they get to 5 years old.

The main reason for writing New Business: Next Steps and starting Drive the Network is to reverse this trend.

I asked a bunch of business owners who have got past the five year milestone to share their thoughts on what made them successful:

Diana Probst I did it by changing what I was doing when that didn’t work, and by having a lot of support from my family. I should have had more of a plan.

Context: I am a fine artist but I can get paid more for designing and making things. I also enjoy making things. So, that maths rather did itself. It turns out that while I like art I also like eating, paying the rent, and having shoes.

The biggest factor was that I set myself a limit. I failed to reach a monetary target at the 5 year mark. So, I knew I had to do something else, and I was already doing a bit of design and making work. My art just became a second string instead of a first.

I had a lot of opportunity because I met a lot of people at Cambridge Makespace, where I do most of my making. My presence there is a de-facto advertisement for the things I can do.

Helen Lindop It took me 5 years to get going because I was working around very small children! But the way I survived was by bootstrapping everything on a tiny budget, trying stuff out and dropping what didn’t work (or what wasn’t worth the effort, or wasn’t going to work for me specifically) and a lot of stubborn bloody mindedness.

It took me a long time to fully understand that I needed something that was profitable, what I like to do AND fits within the constraints I have (kids age 8 and 9, husband with chronic illness, being on hand to help out older relatives). I dropped the ‘follow your passion’ advice a long time ago, but I do have a low boredom threshold (annoying!) so if I try something too repetitive I just can’t stick with it. And a lot of home-based/online businesses are pretty repetitive.

One of the things often overlooked in business advice is the personality of the business owner. So much comes down to what they like / don’t like doing. Finding a way to accommodate all the different roles in your life is also a big factor.

Doug Shaw I started out on my own August 2009, 8th work birthday just passed. Last two years have been a struggle as I wrestle with what I love to do and what the world will engage with me around. Seeing signs of improvement. This stuff is hard, at least I think it is! Maybe I need to shift my mindset a bit too eh.

Caroline Broad Hooray. I’m in year six. I think it has been about hard work, persistence and a s#@t load of resilience. Also, recognising what the market needs and matching it with what I’m good at (huge bag of fear and failure go with this story but I’m trying to just celebrate!!) This is not the easy career route for sure. I’m doing some ‘what are my drivers and motivations and what do I want ‘it’ to look like’ thinking and planning. Plus a lot of introducing more self care into my schedule. I don’t think it’s meant to be easy but I’m keeping a positive eye on my well being and making sure I don’t compromise it (did that years 3, 4 and 5!)

Nigel Thompson Just over 9 years and about to press the reset button and start all over again (kind of)! To get past the 5 year mark took stubbornness, great support from family, long hours, understanding customers and not being afraid of getting hands dirty. I’d like to say it got easier once past that magical 5 year wall but all that really happened is the steps got bigger and the rollercoaster got a little faster!

Make sure you pay the people who matter first. I found that making sure suppliers were paid before I paid myself had this amazing way of making sure I put that extra 10% in as there’s not many months that you want to live on pennies. With the current business model people are everything. Be friendly and treat everyone around you as you wish to be treated.

Andy Boothman I’m thrilled to say we past this milestone some time ago. Advice – be as flexible/adaptable as possible. We are living through incredible times where every business sector/channel’s status quo is moving at a previously unprecedented speed. As an SME you are able to grasp those new ways of working/delivery/service and really run with them in ways bigger organisations simply can’t match. Embrace change and keep pushing forward.

There is something addictive about building your own business. I’ve started exploring the options for a couple of other business ideas and that has got me excited about what the next 5 years could bring. Watch this space!

If you’d like a high five because you’ve got past the 5 year milestone and want to share your story, or if you want to make sure you get past the 5 year milestone, get in touch or come and try Drive the Network!