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Top 5 Reasons that SMEs get Sucked into a Death Spiral

We continue to read about once-proud SMEs that ‘suddenly’ fail, often after many years in business. And it’s very sad – the failure of a business will have a profound effect on a wide range of people, not least the owner but also employees, suppliers and customers too.

In every case, something went wrong, or a series of things went wrong, and this continued long enough that the ‘ground rushed up to meet them’. All the while, the decision-maker either couldn’t or wouldn’t make the decisions that would avert disaster. They failed to take the decisions that would create a different result.

So, were they asleep at the controls? Did they get bad advice? Did they get any advice at all? In this article, we name our Top 5 reasons that SMEs get sucked into a death spiral.

1. Pride

Quite rightly, you are proud of the business you have built and the things you have achieved so far. But don’t let pride stop you asking for help.

Nobody has all the answers and that includes you and me. But somebody probably has the answer you need – there are not too many challenges that have never been seen before.

2. Fear

Sometimes fear can hold you back. When you’re not sure what to do, you can end up doing nothing. But time is not necessarily on your side because SMEs are more likely to be flying at 14,000ft than 40,000ft. So, by all means take advice on what to do (and you should), but do something, please.

3. Ignorance

The best thing about the head-in-the-sand approach is that you can pretend that the ugly stuff isn’t actually happening. And when things are ugly, it’s pretty tempting to avoid the stress of reality. But think about where it positions your backside, when your head is in that sand. That’s right, you got it. So, over to you to decide what’s uglier.

4. Arrogance

You know the world is changing but you’re nobody’s fool. You’re not into all this new-age, digital disruption crap. The internet is but a passing fad. Like yo-yos and pogo sticks and men with beards.

No, you will continue to do things the way you’ve always done them. And you certainly don’t need some guy in a suit to tell you what to do. End of story! Well, often it is…..

5. Belief

You need to have belief but beware of blind belief. If you find yourself having thoughts like ‘It’ll be alright – something will come along and we will turn things around’ you might want step up into the pilot’s seat and make it happen.

One of the things you might find confronting about our Top 5 is that all of the reasons are avoidable – if only you recognise them, know what to do and act quickly enough. Unfortunately, too many SMEs try to go it alone. They voluntarily enter isolation. They avoid issues or deny they even exist. They suffer in silence. And it’s only when trouble strikes that they realise they have no framework for decision-making, no way to save themselves.

So, what are the learnings from this? I think they are these:

  • Build a team around you
  • Learn to trust others and take them into your confidence
  • Be aware of the world around you
  • Develop a framework for decision-making
  • Confront your challenges
  • Ask for help when it is needed
  • Act now and be prepared to act again – we don’t always get things right the first time


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Neil Parker
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