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The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Business

Owners and executives must be leaders first and managers second. As leaders our task is first and

foremost to be about doing the right things, and the “seven deadly sins,” should be on the top of

your list as leadership issues you are dealing with on a regular basis. Building a small business is

one of the most rewarding, but risky ventures one could possibly venture into. Most papers on small

business deal primarily with financing and risk management, which are only symptoms of the real

issues. Your bank account is just the scorecard of how well you have developed your leadership

skills relative to accomplishing the “right things.”
This paper will help you avoid many of the costly pitfalls of operating a small business, assuming

you heed the advice. Avoiding these pitfalls will in turn help you to conserve cash, develop market

share, increase sales, improve customer loyalty, increase employee retention and build efficiencies

into your operation.
The “seven deadly sins” include 1) Poor or non-existent business planning; 2) Lack of a strategic

objective; 3) Lack of marketing strategies and tactics; 4) Management in the place of leadership; 5)

Poor or non-existent systems; 6) Failure to utilize an appropriate leadership style; 7) Care and

feeding of sacred cows. Business owners and executives who do not understand them, do not have

experience with them and therefore do not appreciate their impact and significance often ignore

these critical leadership issues.
Thirty-five years of building and operating small businesses has taught me that most small business

problems are not money problems at all, and in fact money is just an indicator that much deeper

issues are at play. Beware; the market is a wicked taskmaster, these “seven deadly sins” are like

small doses of poison injected into your operation by the very marketplace you are trying to

conquer, and they provide a slow painful death to the naive.
Here are the “seven deadly sins” in order of priority.
1) Poor Business Planning
Most small businesses do not have even a summary business plan, and of those that do, many are

cookie cutter business plans built with the help of a piece of software. At a minimum a business

plan should have an executive summary; a company overview with company history and it’s current

status; the companies strategic objective; a description of the companies products and services; a

list of the companies intellectual properties including patents, copyrights, trademarks, processes

and know-how; a market analysis; a competitive analysis, which includes competitors and their market

position, and their strengths and weaknesses; a marketing plan, which includes your marketing

strategy, product strategy, sales strategy, and pricing strategy; your customer service plan; sales

projections by product, in units, for at least three years; and finally a set of financials which

include projected income and balance sheets with a Performa sales forecast.
Here are some other important suggestions and facts related to business planning:
• Less than a third of small business startups have a business plan
• A business plan does not have to be incredibly detailed for operational purposes
• It should be a work in progress updated on a periodic basis
• Particular attention should be paid to the marketing plan
• A business plan is part of the first fifteen percent of the business development process

which will assure the last eight-five percent will go smoothly
• The executive summary should be written last, after the rest of the plan is in view.
2) Lack of Strategic Objectives
A business strategy is made up of carefully crafted words making up templates, which in turn act as

filters through which all planning, tactics and decisions are passed through before implementation.

A strategic objective is therefore, a business strategy developed to guide an organization in

meeting business objectives. A strategic objective is developed from the owner’s vision, passion,

core competencies and values for the business. Contact Emerald Business Services or go to our

website for a worksheet you can use to develop these critical business development tools.
3) Lack of Marketing Strategies and Tactics
Marketing strategies govern the development of tactics, which in turn provide the actions items

contained within your planning process. The most important aspect of your marketing plan is the

development of promotion strategies and tactics, which feed your promotion planning and provide you

with sales forecasting data. The promotion plan should also detail costs and anticipated unit volume

so you can set priorities and provide sales forecasting data.
4) Management in the Place of Leadership
So why is leadership so important in growing a business? Because leadership is about doing the right

things, management is about doing things right . In many ways, it is leadership that will grow your

business from a sales and a stability perspective, and management that will make, or keep it

profitable. Also, consider that the best companies focus ninety percent of their attention on

external issues, not internally , leadership is primarily a focus on the external issues.
5) Poor or non-existent Systems
Most people think of computer systems when they hear the word “system.” But in the since it is used

here it means all systems, including the system you use for selecting the right employee, for

decision making within a department and so on. One of the more telling statistics in this area is

the fact that ninety-four percent of all task or project failures are system failures2. Some of the

more common reasons for system failure include:
• Islands of automation verses integrated systems
• Absent or non-existent policies, procedures and user manuals
• Poor training.
6) Lack of Development of Leadership Style
Developing leadership ability has a lot to do with understanding the type of leadership required at

different stages of your company’s development. There are at least six different leadership styles

identified to be effective at different stages of a company’s development including; Visionary;

Coaching; Affiliative; Democratic; Pacesetting; and Commanding . Understanding which leadership

style to employ has been found to significantly increase the effectiveness, growth and heath of the

companies in which leaders utilized multiple styles. Just as important is the understanding of what

a leaders personal profile is. Armed with these vital bits of information a leader is equipped to

pursue the right leadership style for the task at hand.
7) Care and Feeding of Sacred Cows
I do not have a statistic on the amount of money, time and energy expended on the sacred cows

lurking in American businesses, but it has to be staggering. This list details some of the types of

sacred cows you can look for in your business.
• The way we have always done it
• The product or service you keep pouring money into because you just know it will take off

and be your future, (these are almost never accompanied by market research or even a promotional

• Resistance to growth through change
• Idleness within the ranks, some experts believe ten percent of the poorest performing people

should be let go each year to make room for people with fresh insights and ideas
• The company airplane, automobiles, and other perks, which drain company recourses
• The dead weight relatives and friends of the family who would be better off elsewhere, act

as distractions, and add nothing to your bottom line
• The “expert” that no one can live with, who holds a noose around the companies neck in the

form of some expertise or an unwritten code of loyalty.
You could call this business “101,” however, most of the issues developed in this paper are rarely

taught in schools, much less heeded. These “seven deadly sins” can impede your company’s ability to

successfully navigate through the turbulent waters of business development. If you do not understand

all the issues summarized in this paper, do the research; find a business advisor to help you

navigate these storms , you owe it to yourself, your business and the people who count on you.
Conquering the devil in the details is what management is about, concurring the “seven deadly sins

of small business” is what leadership is all about. The beauty of developing top-level leadership

skills is that there is no downside, only opportunity for growth in both your business and your

personal development. Leadership is what the entrepreneurial spirit is all about.
Develop your business plan, establish strategic objectives, establish marketing strategies and

tactics, lead, build effective systems, utilize more than one leadership style and kill the sacred

cows in your business, it might be the only thing that keeps you and your company from becoming

another dreadful statistic.
1. article “Most Entrepreneurs Start with . . . No Business Plan”
2. Demming
3. Peter Drucker
4. Allan Weiss
5. Goleman
6. Keeping everything the same and expecting things to change is at least one definition of insanity
7. Call us at (619)985-0799 for a free consultation

About the Author: Michael Adams
Ideas and Strategies for Business
Emerald Business Services, LLC
P.O. Box 1875
United States


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