Thursday, June 9, 2011

10 Commandments for Business Failure

I came across a book and wanted to share it with those of you that are business owners.  Although the book is written with anecdotes and lessons learned from very large corporations, as an Etsy seller, I could see very clearly how these "what-not-to-do's" apply to my business.   As the book states, you can read many books on how to succeed in business, but there's no real secret to success.  What's key is knowing what it takes to fail.  (And then avoiding it, of course!)

Donald R. Keough wrote the book, "The Ten Commandments for Business Failure."  Keough was once the COO and director of the Coca-Cola Company.  He now serves on the boards of several companies, including Berkshire Hathaway, and Warren Buffet wrote the foreword to this book.

Here are the Ten Commandments for Business Failure, and then my take on how I apply it to my Etsy business.

1. Quit Taking Risks
First of all, it's a risk to buy supplies, make products, and set up an online store.  You can't be sure anyone will ever buy anything.  So by simple opening up shop, I took a risk.  Then, you can't grow without being able to take more risks.  Testing ideas, products, techniques, marketing plans, branding, networking options.  I learn from each mistake I make along the way.  I also feel as a very small business owner, it's important to be mindful of risks and manage them properly. 
2. Be Inflexible
If I want to make products just for fun, that's one thing.  But if I want to make some money from it, I have to learn what people want and are looking for and tailor my products to meet customers' needs.  For me, I have to like what I sell.  But it also has to be what someone wants.  I also have to be open to new ideas (like this new blog), and submit to the fact that I will learn and grow every day, and that often requires change.
3. Isolate Yourself
For large corporations, he is refering to CEO's who are unreachable in their large offices and lose touch with employees and customers.  For me, working from home, it can be very isolating.  Etsy is a great forum to connect with others and learn from other Etsy shop owners.  Facebook and this blog allow me to interact with customers and sellers.  Social media is priceless when you have an online store.  It's also important for me to stay on top of trends.  So I consider shopping, reading magazines, reading other blogs, and even watching TV and movies "research" for my work. :)
4. Assume Infallibility
I've been humbled.  I'm not always right.  I make something I think will sell in a heartbeat, and it doesn't.  I make tons of mistakes.  There are people out there who are way better than me at what we do.  I've learned not to make excuses when I'm not finding the success I'm expecting, but to go out and find more ways to succeed.  Accept responsibility for my ups and my downs.  Don't blame others - the economy, customers, the season, the weather get the idea..I take ownership of my business and am willing to learn, grow, and work harder.
5. Play the Game Close to the Foul Line
Instead, I try to offer superior customer service, deliver what I offer, and do my best to ensure people trust me.
6. Don't Take Time to Think
If you're reading this, you probably do not make this mistake.  Those of us on the Etsy forums, seeking advice and support, constantly think about their businesses.  Try something every day to improve it in some way.  I want my business to grow, and as it does, I will regularly take a step back and re-evaluate.  Even for the top sellers selling thousands of items, it's important to take time to breathe.  Especially for an artist.  Finding inspiration, new creative ideas, or business strategies requires thought and mindful actions.
7. Put All Your Faith in Experts
I've reached out countless times to top Etsy sellers and have received invaluable advice.  Without question, it's helped me to get better.  But, everyone has an opinion.  What works for one shop or person, does not work for another.  So while I value advice, I also am learning to rely on my own instincts.  Trust myself. 
8. Love Your Bureaucracy
This one clearly applies mostly to large companies.  Their bureaucracy gives them a false sense of security.  That what's so great about Etsy as opposed to mass-produced goods from chain stores.  There is no bureaucracy.  There is no middle man.  Business owners and the designers behind them work directly with their customers ALL the time.  Custom orders can be the most fun, because you work with someone else to give them exactly what they want, and the art behind your product benefits.
9. Send Mixed Messages
Branding is important for an online business.  Staying clear and consistent to develop an online presence is quite a challenge, but it's important for success.  While I sell not only handmade corkboards and push pins, I also sell vintage accessories and housewares.  But even with the variety in my shop, I want people to get an idea of my style and find my niche.  I want my customers to know what they will get by visiting my shop.  Variety is part of the branding, so I've found it to be a complex task.  But necessary.
10. Be Afraid of the Future
Fear will stop you in your tracks.  If you're not optimistic about the future, and if you don't truly believe in  yourself and your product, you will fail.  Successful people believe that their hard work will pay off.  While all businesses experience ups and downs, optimism is what ultimately drives you to keep going. 

This is just an overview of the book and only scratches the surface.  Click on the title of the book and be directed to Amazon to buy it if you want to read more. 

Please comment and let me know what you've learned NOT to do.


  1. I especially agree with number 7. so many people think what works for someone else will be the answer for them...simply not so. I have found often it is best to find out for myself what works and to do what I think is right-not what someone else tells me is right.

    But, once in a while, someone can give a morsel of advice that really is helpful~ :)

  2. I'm having a 'feel bad' day about my shop LOL! This has made me feel much better. I think I'm on my way, I just need to get there slowly. Thanks so much for posting this!

  3. Glad you guys found it interesting, as I did! I thought the book was an interesting flip - rather than advice for success, ways in which we can set ourselves up to fail.

  4. Great article! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to share this. I think #10 is extremely important. You need to truly feel positive about your shop and what you're selling. Fear can only hurt you.

  6. I agree Nancy, I love that one too. Sometimes, I find myself thinking, "What if I never have another sale?!" But I know I truly believe in what I make and sell. Fear does nothing but paralyze us and can stop us from adapting and growing.

  7. Excellent article. I like that it's concise and to-the-point without being too wordy. Thanks so much for sharing!!

  8. Thanks, JuJuBeader! My first attempt to write without photos, and that was my goal, so I truly appreciate your feedback!

  9. Thank you for sharing :).Great reads :),yes, selling on Etsy or on line is a overwhelming experience at some moments, but if you believe in your own creativity and product, stay optimistic, with a grain of realism,you can do well. It just takes a little bit of time to find a balance between your own need to create and necessity to promote. I'm still in the process of learning how to juggle those two things. And those kind of great words of wisdom are always great motivation.

  10. I agree 100% Stitchinnetka, balance is key! Sometimes, it's hard to find it, but balance in all things is so important. In work and in every area of life, and especially in combining work and life...whew! :)