The Three Cs of Business Failure

Chaos, confusion and catastrophe: Could these three silent killers be destroying your business?

I just have to get this out of my system. I have had so many negative experiences in the past few weeks with "service companies" who have absolutely no idea--none, zilch, completely, vacuously zero--of what service is that I simply could not restrain myself from writing about it and sharing it with you, given how committed you are to fulfilling the vision of entrepreneurship.

Call any 100 small companies--any 100--and you'll find out for yourself that chaos, confusion and the resulting catastrophe are alive and well in 99 percent of them (and by saying 99 percent, I'm being generous.)

The dismal fact is that most small businesses are a hopeless mess.

And that's why most small businesses fail. Because they're a hopeless mess.

And they're a hopeless mess for some very specific, undeniable reasons. Let me share one of them with you:

It's obvious to me that the average owner of the vast majority of small, medium or large businesses simply hasn't a clue what to do about the mess that inhabits his business. What's worse, he doesn't know the difference between a mess and its opposite characteristics--clean, credible, committed, capable, organized, energized, focused, deliberate. In short, a business that understands what a promise is and is able to deliver what it promised.

Let me give you an example. I called a window washing service I found in the Yellow Pages. I was foolish enough to believe I could call any one of the long list of window washers in my local Yellow Pages and get someone to wash my windows. Ha!

After calling seven companies and connecting with their voice-mail message..."Hello, this is Simon and Shuster Window Washing Clinic. We do the job for you! We're not here right now, but we do want to do business with you, so please leave a message, your name, your number, what you're interested in, when you would like it done, and how much you're willing to pay for it, provided, of course, that we can find someone to do it!"

Yes, I'm pulling your leg. That wasn't really what their phone message said. But it may as well have been for all the good the call did. Because they never called me back! Nor did four of the other companies I left a message with.

So you can imagine my relief when I did get a call back. And how relieved I was that it was a real person. And how unimaginably relieved I was to hear that he had been in the window washing business in my small community for more than 18 years!

Now that was reassuring. 18 years! I'm going to get my windows washed, a voice inside me said. I am, I am, I am!

I felt so incredibly relieved, joyful, fulfilled. My windows are going to get washed, the voice said, and I'm not going to have to worry about it any more.

So we made an appointment, my window washing maven and I, for 8:30 the very next morning. I cleared out the other appointments I had, knowing that if I didn't keep this appointment, my windows would go for who knows how long, unwashed.

I waited up most of the night. I was truly determined. I set my alarm for 7, just so I could handle all the other things I needed to handle in expectation of the fulfillment of my window washing dream. Clean windows, yes! Clean windows just around the corner.

And 8:30 came. And 8:31. And 8:38. And 9:00. And 10:00.

The sucker didn't show! He didn't. And he never called me, either.

Oh, but I called him. I didn't dare believe he had actually stood me up. I didn't dare believe he hadn't called me to explain what happened. I didn't dare believe any business owner could be so demented! But demented he was. I checked my schedule...yes, it was 8:30...yes, it was the day I waited for him...yes, it was a fact that he didn't even respond to the 37 calls I made, to reconnect, to reestablish the rapport I thought we had.

How many times has that happened to me? How many times has that happened to you? How many business owners--supposed entrepreneurs--are living in the chaos, living in the confusion, creating an infinite number of catastrophes for the people they make commitments to? How many do you know? Why not tell me your stories? I would love to hear that I'm not the only idiot out there on the planet, living in the belief that the world is populated by people who make promises...and keep them!

Let me know. I need some relief.

Michael Gerber is the "Leadership" coach at Entrepreneur.comand is the author of the mega-bestseller, The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It. He is also an entrepreneur himself, having spent the past three decades building his coaching company, E-Myth Worldwide,around the idea of empowering business owners to gain more freedom, more money, more time and more life.

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