7 Reasons why my first business failed

I recently took the next step in my business and made it a Limited Company. Having had a failed business in the past (I’ll cover this later), I was familiar with the process and yet, one of the biggest struggles I faced was choosing a name.

When I say I have a business it is, in fact, two. As well as working freelance looking after SEO for some wonderful clients, I also run a low-cost travel accommodation directory. Not wanting to double the amount of work, I wanted both businesses to fall under the same Limited Company, so I needed a generic name to cover both businesses.

I spent many hours deciding what to call it and nothing seemed right. I couldn’t find anything I felt passionate about. After speaking with my good friend Asa and explaining the problem, he asked me about the foods my kids like.

Well that’s simple. Oranges and apples.

The company I work for is named after a variation of an orange, so that was out of the question and as for apple… Well, there’s a small company somewhere in the world that’s already monopolised that particular fruit, so that idea wasn’t going to work either.

But it did get me thinking. Why not call my company after my kids? They are precious to me and many a great company has been named for personal reasons, so why not mine?

Irritatingly, my first idea had already been registered a year earlier as a dormant company. How annoying! If you want the name, great, but don’t just sit on it! So it was back to the drawing board.

I tried other variations of my children’s names, but nothing felt quite right and I didn’t want a double-barrelled name for my business. Then, one Friday during a meeting with my colleagues (albeit in the pub), I had a brain wave and my new business name was born.

On the train home, all I kept thinking about was the new name for my business. I couldn’t get a decent Internet connection to check, so all I could do was hope nobody had got there before me.

Why name my business after my children?

As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t my first Limited Company. The first one failed.

It took me a long time to admit this publicly. It hurt a lot. It made me feel like I had failed but when I sat down and thought about it, I realised it was a great lesson – probably better than my university education, or any of the roles I’ve had during employment.

I took time to reflect and spent some time working out why the business had failed and realised that much of it was down to naivety, bad timing and poor management on my part.

Here in Britain, we tend to look down on failures but in America, they say that a failed business is the best education. Across the pond, it’s considered a good thing, especially if you want investors.

It certainly was a great learning curve and hopefully, I can take the lessons I learned and apply them to my new venture.

7 reasons why my business failed

  1. Lack of cash
  2. Unreliable delivery company
  3. Not enough time invested by me
  4. Over-spending on non-critical items
  5. Lack of technical knowledge
  6. Using tactics from a company where I previously worked
  7. Trying to do too much

Let’s cover these in more detail.

  1. Lack of cash

I just didn’t keep on top of the cash!

A few of the other mistakes I cover below then led me to run out completely, which meant I had no cash to buy new stock to sell.

It’s been said many times, but cash really is king. With cash, you can do lots of wonderful things. Without it, you can’t. If you have no cash reserves, you have no choice but to admit defeat.

  1. Unreliable delivery company

In business, you need to make the maximum profit, so I went with the cheapest delivery company to distribute the goods I was selling. At the start, I didn’t even pay for insurance as I thought this was an expense I didn’t need.

Profit is king. So what if my customers got their orders a few days late? I could always get new customers (see point 6 above). It was all about being cheap.

In the end, the delivery company failed to deliver, meaning I had to refund my customers. The company was also losing my goods. After a while, I starting paying for insurance, but every claim involved so much paperwork, I hardly ever got paid out.

I was paying for stock that was going missing, receiving a poor delivery service, and pissing off my customers to the point where they wouldn’t shop with me. Worse still, they were probably being negative about my company to others, so I was hurting my brand.

At this point, brand didn’t mean an awful lot to me. It wasn’t until I met Sue, who taught me a lot of wonderful things, that I realised the importance of customers and brand reputation.

But I was losing money and that didn’t help point 1 – cash flow.

  1. Not investing enough time in my business

There’s no hiding behind anything here. I’d read books by people I admire, like Alan Sugar and Richard Branson and thought “they started with nothing, why can’t I?”

I’d assumed it was all plain sailing and that making money was easy.

I should have done more, put more time and effort in. Then it could’ve been a success and maybe now, I could be sat on a beach somewhere and not in freezing cold Yorkshire!

This is the one of the big differences between then and now. These days, I spend a lot of time with my freelance clients and on my own websites to make them a success.

Sometimes I probably spend too much time on my clients’ sites, but if they’re happy, then they’ll continue doing business with me. And that’s good. As we remember from point 1, cash is king, so I need my clients to keep paying me.

It must be working, as one of my clients has just nearly doubled the amount of work he’s putting my way each month!

In the past, I didn’t treat my suppliers very well, whether they were providing stock or services. I got into the habit of paying late, assuming they would always do the work or supply me with goods, but it was only a matter of time before their work levels dropped.

This time around, everyone will be paid promptly. I’ve realised that to survive in business, I need a good relationship with all of my suppliers.

  1. Over-spending on non-critical items

Despite already struggling with cash, I thought it was a good idea to “show” that I was a success by having nice things. A new desk, bigger office, a new laptop.

Looking back, all these things could have waited until I had more money in the bank.

Yes, a bigger office did help with stock, but I’m sure I would’ve survived in the smaller one and my laptop was ok and could’ve done the job.

I really like working off a Mac; it’s just better than a Windows PC (that’s for a different article) but this time, I’m making do. I’m working on a Windows laptop that’s slower and can’t do everything I want to do, but the £1500 it would cost me to replace it will be better spent on growing the business. Then, when I do have a bit more cash in the bank, I can invest in a Mac and feel great about the achievement. For now, the slow Windows laptop will have to do.

By not doing this previously, I did nothing to help point 1 – cash flow.

Had I not spent money on non-essential items, I could have invested a bit more on a decent carrier company, met (or exceeded) my customers’ expectations, and had a successful business.

  1. Lack of technical knowledge

I paid over the odds for my first website. Well over in fact, but I didn’t know any different.

In short, I paid a company who outsources website creation to India, who built my website on WordPress. I didn’t know what WordPress was back then, so I was none the wiser. I won’t go into numbers – but that cost me a LOT.

Once again, I had a serious problem with point number 1. I wasted money and hurt my cash flow.

With limited technical knowledge and not knowing much about SEO, I didn’t update my website. On Christmas Eve four years ago, I woke up to find Israeli activists had taken over my site and started promoting their beliefs!

From an SEO standpoint this is hard to admit but at the time, I was buying and swapping links. It was the done thing. So, in one sense, the hacking was a blessing in disguise. If my site hadn’t been hacked, forcing me to shut it down, a little penguin would have bitten me on the arse anyway.

Nevertheless, a lack of real knowledge and playing at SEO did not help. I have to say, part of me is glad it failed because it meant I had to concentrate on my full-time role, which gave me the chance to learn some skills.

I wouldn’t say I was an SEO expert, as no one is (anyone who says they are is lying, so run a mile!) With Google constantly changing the goalposts, it’s all about continuous learning and testing. If you are still learning, how can you be an expert? That said, I do believe I’m very good at SEO and digital marketing, hence why I went freelance.

  1. Using tactics from a previous company

I won’t name the company as I don’t think it’s fair (and they aren’t on my LinkedIn profile either!) but their attitude was stack it high, sell it, and don’t really care about the customer. There was a culture of ‘there are plenty of potential customers out there, so if we lose some, we’ll gain new ones’. And I thought the same. The difference being, I couldn’t really afford to keep advertising for new customers as, back to point 1, I was running out of cash.

I’ve since learnt that keeping your current customers happy and ensuring they continue to buy from you is good business and a much cheaper solution. Plus, it’s also best business practice.

  1. Trying to do too much

I kept coming up with great business ideas, some of which are still worth pursuing, but I kept trying out new ideas instead of concentrating on my core business. Again, it meant I was using my limited cash flow on non-essential items.

Before trying other ventures, I should have been putting all my resources into growing the main company until I had an established business with enough cash in the bank.

I may have two businesses this time, but I’ll be sticking with them until they are both established and growing. At some point in the future, I plan to revisit some of my other ideas but until then, they can stay on the backburner. Right now, it’s about growing what I have into a successful brand.

Also, my priorities have changed.

I’ve gone from wanting to create a business just to make a quick buck and enjoy life, to creating a business I can be proud of and hopefully one day, pass down to my children. If my business has their names on it, I’m only going to want the best for it and for them.

So here’s to creating a long and successful business and building it the right way.

I plan to run a much more honest and open company. As part of my new strategy, each year I’ll be openly publishing my accounts to show how well the company is doing. I’ll be sharing with you my successes and failures and more importantly, the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

I’m not expecting it to be perfect and there will be mistakes but hopefully, I can get past them to give my sons a business they can be proud of.

So what did I call my new business?

Coreter Limited – named after my sons, Corey and Carter.

I look forward to you joining me on my journey.

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