Business Killers by Dan Boudreau by Dan Boudreau - Read Online

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Business Killers - Dan Boudreau

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The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned. — J.K. Rowling, Author

When I vaulted into my first business in 1980, I hoped to be a successful, positive force for those around me, and an asset to my community. Seven years later, the day I declared bankruptcy, I felt crushed, enslaved, and worthless. Not the glory I’d envisioned.

In the harsh glare of my failures, I realized that I’d underestimated my misfortune’s impact, not only on myself, but also on those closest to me. My parents were shocked and concerned; employees and customers were disappointed; unpaid creditors were pissed at me. I felt victimized and ashamed, but really—I’d engineered my own horrid nightmare.

I was optimistic to the final blow. I was sure I could continue spinning magic tricks to keep the business afloat. I’d orchestrated so many miracles during the venture’s life, I believed I was invincible. While I groped around for the next eye-popping performance, reality bludgeoned me.

I was terrified. While running my own business, I’d tasted freedom, and I didn’t want to let it go. As the tentacles of insolvency tethered and strangled me, I feared I would once again be reduced to punching time clocks at insufferable workplaces. Defeat settled in, quashing my optimism.

Mired in that avalanche of complications and blunders, I believed my romance with business was over. I didn’t realize then that entrepreneurship was embedded in my DNA and that my education was just beginning.

To stop the craziness, I dragged my battered soul into a trustee’s office and declared bankruptcy. After a costly period of self-indulgence—drinking, using drugs, feeling sorry and embarrassed for myself alcohol, drugs, feeling sorry for myself, embarrassed—I settled in to unravel the lessons. That’s when I began to understand the bigger picture and, most importantly, to heal my shattered heart.

Like most first-time founders, I knew more about the work— in my case it was a tree planting service—than I did about running a business. Ignorance and my disturbing proclivity for self-destruction led to the dreaded insolvency. I now understand some setbacks are unavoidable, but massive failure doesn’t need to be a rite of passage—disaster can be avoided. The hard knocks are mostly the result of self-sabotage, yet we don’t need to learn everything the hard way. We can stop destroying ourselves at any time, and it begins with admitting there is a problem, and then fixing it.

By her own admission, J. K. Rowling failed on an epic scale in her twenties. Divorced, a single mother, unemployed, and half a skip from being homeless, she went on to author the phenomenal Harry Potter Fantasy Series and become one of the most respected and successful authors of all time. In a commencement speech, called The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination, given to a group of Harvard grads after her spectacular success, she said that we can determine our own definition of failure, but equally important, our failures enable us to strip away to the bare necessities, to scale back to rock bottom, and that rock bottom became the solid foundation on which she rebuilt her life.

Looking back, Rowling’s sense of catastrophic failure takes on a different hue. Her challenges weren’t terminal; she was just getting started on a new and epic adventure; the business of becoming one of the most successful and celebrated authors of all time.

My rise from the ashes, while not as wildly publicized as Rowlings’, had all the same elements. That experience gave me the foundation for the next unexpected opportunity to learn. In the early 90s, I was invited to join a lending committee for the Community Futures Development Corporation in Prince George, British Columbia. The committee reviewed business loan applications and decided whether or not to finance entrepreneurs’ dreams. It was like a Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den, but without the flash and dazzle of multi-millionaire investors and media.

The fifteen years with the lending group were amazing. I learned so much from the applicants and the other committee members. I didn’t know it then, but the committee was my ringside view of the small business financing process, including the dark side—collecting when clients defaulted and dealing with all the ugliness that prevails when a business goes bad.

Every few months, the committee reviewed questionable loan files to determine which to write off and which to keep alive. I enjoyed those reviews because they offered the richest learning.

The vision for this book emerged after a particularly messy blood-fest when the lending committee wrote off several defaulted loans. I realized that all the same problems, which I call Business Killers, surfaced again and again in the wreckage of each catastrophe.

Why, when each fledgling venture is fueled by the owner’s blazing desire to be successful, do so many fail? After sifting through hundreds of downed ventures, I finally got it: most business casualties are not caused by the stock market, oil prices, or world events; they’re triggered by the owners themselves. Consciously or unconsciously, people sabotage themselves with their thoughts, habits, and actions. The enemy is self-destruction and main saboteurs of businesses are those who own them.

Self-sabotage can be defined as deciding you want something, and then working against yourself to ensure it fails.

Self-destruction can be found at work, in relationships, in college, or after making New Year’s resolutions. Self-sabotage and entrepreneurship are intertwined; engaged in a long-term relationship that determines whether or not you get what you want from life.

Business Killers will show you how to triumph over self-sabotage and succeed in business, even though so many things can go wrong. This book will teach you to make better decisions and form better habits, while offering ways to redirect and improve.

You don’t need to declare bankruptcy or start over to benefit from this book. Owners choke the vitality from their own struggling ventures day by day, choice by choice, one treacherous action at a time. Business Killers are not necessarily fatal. If you aren’t quite cutting it in your industry, or you’re barely paying your bills, or you’re not growing fast enough, then self-sabotage might be the problem.

Business Killers is written for people who long to be self-employed, and are passionate about their product, but not familiar with what it takes to run a business. Often, entrepreneurs are surprised to discover that their hobby or blog is generating income or has taken over their lives. This book is to help you cope with the disruption and change a small business can generate. It will also prompt you to step back from the day-to-day racket and see opportunities for your business.

The good news is that threats can be minimized and failures can be avoided. Owners can turn bad situations around, usually by making small, incremental improvements.

These pages contain forty Business Killers and practical innovations that will disarm or eradicate them. It takes surprisingly little to alter a venture’s trajectory, and the tools of change are within your control. Each killer in this book comes with suggestions (Actions and Journal Questions) to change your behavior and fortify your business.

Don’t feel you need to implement all of the creative ideas in this book at once; work at your own pace. I challenge you to choose at least one action to improve your business each time you open the book. Set your intention now to eradicate self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, and you are certain to enjoy a more satisfying and successful entrepreneurial experience.

The entrepreneurs and businesses referenced throughout this book, with the exception of my own experiences and examples, are composites of people and enterprises I have known, supplemented with a few of my imagined details and opinions. For the most part, I have changed names to protect those involved and keep us all out of trouble.


It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. It doesn’t matter how many times you almost get it right. No one is going to know or care about your failures, and neither should you. All you have to do is learn from them and those around you because all that matters in business is that you get it right once. Then everyone can tell you how lucky you are. — Mark Cuban, Owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks

The Entrepreneurial Path

When I bounced into entrepreneurship, it was love at first sight. Small business is an opportunity to overcome enslavement. Sure, a business gone bad can spin you into a blazing inferno, but done right, it can also be the key to any lifestyle you want. It can be your ticket to freedom from debt, drudgery, meaningless work, and serving bosses you loathe.

As a teen, I discovered I could always find work, even when jobs were scarce. By the age of twenty, my career had shifted away from the traditional nine-to-five concept to a mosaic of contracts and tasks that I call work. I’ve always needed to work to survive economically. I am fortunate to be living in Canada, where I have always had ample employment opportunities. When jobs with regular pay-checks and all the trimmings were unavailable, I’ve been able to cobble together enough paid activity to sustain myself.

Joblessness motivates creative people to start businesses. Thousands of start-ups arise each year from the need to survive or support a family. Unemployment is an important enough problem that it is an ongoing focus of governments. The number of young people turning to self-employment is on the rise, as illustrated by the following quote.

"One in five 18-34 year-olds has a business idea. And with young people nearly three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population – the highest level in 20 years – and the volume of new companies rising each year, starting a business has rarely been more pertinent."¹

Business Killers is for people who dream about starting their own gig, or who want to turn a hobby into a business, or who are working fulltime and chafing to start their own business, and for those who are already in business. The term, business, describes ventures from tiny to large across many industry sectors. In this book, I use the term to refer to all small and microbusinesses, including start-ups, proprietorships, cottage industries, home-based, single operator, and businesses with or without employees, including corporations and partnerships with fewer than five employees. My views arise from owning businesses, financing entrepreneurs, and serving as a small business advisor, coach, and trainer.

Although most businesses start small and, by design, never grow beyond a simple home base, the overall impact is significant.

In the U.S., the Small Business Administration defines a small business as an enterprise having fewer than 500 employees. At this writing:

- There are almost 28 million small businesses in the US, of which more than 22 million are self-employed with no additional payroll or employees

- The 28 million small businesses in America account for 54% of all U.S. sales.

- Small businesses provide 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970s.

- Since 1990, as big business eliminated four million jobs, small businesses added eight million new jobs.

- In the US women start businesses with $78,000, men with $135,000, and

- More than half of all millennials want to start their own business.²

Industry Canada defines small and medium businesses (SME’s) as those with 499 or fewer employees.

- As of December 2015, there were 1.17 million employer businesses, 1.14 million (97.9 percent) were small businesses, 21,415 (1.8 percent) were medium-sized businesses.

- In 2013, the total number of SME births was 78,430, compared with 83,240 deaths, which resulted in a net decrease of 4,810 businesses.

- As of 2015, small businesses employed over 8.2 million individuals in Canada, or 70.5 percent of the total private Labour force.

- In 2014, 15.7 percent of SMEs were majority owned by women and 19.7 percent were equally owned by women and men.

- SMEs owned by female entrepreneurs are most common in information, administration, health care and recreation; and other services (24.1 percent and 23.0 percent respectively).

- In 2014, the highest percentage of SME owners was in the 50–64 years of age group (47.4 percent for small businesses and 51.0 percent for medium-sized businesses).³

Some of the most successful businesses were launched by owners while in their early twenties. The twenties and thirties can be favorable decades to go into business because you have more energy and you can take more risks. The following are examples of famous businesses started by 20-somethings in emerging industries:⁴

- Founders of Google: Sergey Brin (25) & Larry Page (25)

- Founders of Apple: Steve Jobs (21) & Steve Wozniak (26)

- Founders of Microsoft: Bill Gates (20) & Paul Allen (22)

- Founder of Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg (20)

- Founder of Wal-Mart: Sam Walton (26)

Another group of entrepreneurs started their companies while in their late 20s to late 30s. This group includes entrepreneurs such as Glen Taylor (Taylor Corporation and owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves), Bob Kierlin (Fastenal), Steve Ells (Chipotle), and Michael Bloomberg (Bloomberg).⁵

The gig economy promises a way to ease into a variety of small contracting opportunities. "A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. The trend toward a gig economy has begun. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors."⁶

However, and this is important, you do not need to be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg to succeed on your own. Each of us has a unique vision of success, and that vision guides what the business must achieve to meet its owner’s needs. While the epic successes, like Facebook and Apple, capture the attention of, and inspire the masses, most businesses start small and stay small, quietly providing just enough to enable the owners to survive.


To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands. — Sun Tzu

This Hacks segment is the first of many, which you will find at the end of each Business Killer. Each is filled with actions designed to help you implement changes in your behavior, which will bring you different results. Think of each action as a remedy or fix capable of dramatically altering your business trajectory. I suggest you use the actions that attract you most, as they inspire you. You don’t need to complete all of the actions before moving on to the next.

I suggest you incorporate the following actions 1 (journaling) and 2 (meditation) into your daily routine and continue using both for as long as they bring you value. Action 3 is a book reading assignment; throughout Business Killers I suggest a variety of books to increase your awareness and knowledge. Each of the recommended books expanded my horizons, enriched my understanding of the world, and helped me to be a better entrepreneur. I hope they will do the same for you.

Action 1: Journaling. As you make your way through this book, I will guide you to enter information into your journal. You can use a simple lined scribbler, a fancy journaling book, or a file on your computer. Whatever medium you choose, make it something you will enjoy writing in.

The purpose of journaling is to explore your thoughts, feelings and beliefs, and to discover the reasons why you behave the way you do.

The following list includes 10 benefits you can gain from journaling:

1. Stretch your IQ.

2. Evoke mindfulness.

3. Achieve goals.

4. Increase your emotional intelligence.

5. Boost your memory and comprehension.

6. Strengthen your self-discipline.

7. Improve your communication skills.

8. Healing.

9. Spark your creativity.

10. Increase your self-confidence.⁷

You can use your journal to:

- List tasks to accomplish

- Write affirmations

- Record quotes or clips that inspire you

- Ask questions (and answer them if you wish)

- Identify problems / challenges

- Clarify confusing information

- Write your experiences

- Write your creative or innovative ideas

- List what you’re thankful for

- Make general notes on conversations or information gathered

- Congratulate yourself on tasks well done

- Add photos or drawings that have meaning for you

- Write your intentions

Get the most out of your journal by revisiting and reflecting or meditating on your writings. Make notes on what you’re learning. Keep a list of your destructive behaviors and those that you aspire to replace them with. List your failures and successes; use your journal to celebrate and learn from both.

In the matter of challenging self-sabotage and changing your behaviors, your journal will quickly become your friend. Though I’ve not included direction or follow-up for the journal questions; I expect that your writing will lead to thoughts, learning, and change. I can only suggest that you approach each matter with curiosity and an open mind, and the way forward will reveal itself to you piece by piece. Persist in your journal writing, and you’ll know when action is needed and what shape it should take.

Action 2: Meditation. In his book, Waking Up, Sam Harris describes meditation as a technique for expanding your awareness. The goal, says Harris, is to come out of the trance of discursive thinking and to stop reflexively grasping at the pleasant and recoiling from the unpleasant, so that we can enjoy a mind undisturbed by worry, merely open like the sky, and effortlessly aware of the flow of experience in the present.

Harris’ process for meditation.

1. Sit comfortably, with your spine erect, either in a chair or cross-legged on a cushion.

2. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and feel the points of contact between your body and the chair or the floor. Notice the sensations associated with sitting—feelings of pressure, warmth, tingling, vibrations, etc.

3. Gradually become aware of the process of breathing. Pay attention to wherever you feel the breath most distinctly—either at your nostrils or in the rising and falling of your abdomen.

4. Allow your attention to rest in the mere sensation of breathing. (You don’t have to control your breath. Just let it come and go naturally.)

5. Every time your mind wanders in thought, gently return it to the breath.

6. As you focus on the process of breathing, you will also perceive sounds, bodily sensations, or emotions. Simply observe these phenomena as they appear in consciousness and then return to the breath.

7. The moment you notice that you have been lost in thought, observe the present thought itself as an object of consciousness. Then return your attention to the breath—or to any sounds or sensations arising in the next moment.

8. Continue in this way until you can merely witness all objects of consciousness—sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, even thoughts themselves—as they arise, change, and pass away.

Those who are new to this practice generally find it useful to hear instructions of this kind spoken aloud during the course of a meditation session. You can create your own audio meditation guide by recording the above steps on your mobile phone. Sam Harris has posted guided meditations of varying length at his website.

Action 3: Choose an inspirational book and read it. Currently, I’m reading Sam Harris’ book, Waking Up, A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, Adam Grant’s book, Originals, How Non-Conformists Move the World, Amy Webb’s book, The Signals Are Talking, Why Today’s Fringe is Tomorrow’s Mainstream, Kevin