Is Your Business On The Brink Of Disaster?

November 14, 2008

Is your business on the brink of disaster? If so, don’t wait for a business disaster to happen. Check to see if your business is making one of these crucial mistakes and fix the problem fast.

Last night I had a dream. Actually, it was a nightmare. I wound up in the middle of a huge business disaster. I’d taken a job at Disasters R Us - the most inefficient business I’d worked in, since the NHS. And aside from showing me how much I’d hate to work for someone else; it also reminded me how small problems can escalate into a huge business disaster, if you don’t fix them.

Technology That Sucks Money From Your Business

Disasters R Us was ran by two partners. I think they were brothers, so we’ll call them Cain and Abel. Abel seemed to spend most of his day trying to fix three dodgy printers. And Cain disappeared so often that I initially thought the bathroom was his office.

The time wasted in this business was astounding. Three more women worked in the office, aside from me. But they spent most of their time talking, because they couldn’t work while the printers were broken. I had trouble figuring that one - I guess Cain and Abel were a bit gullible.

Most of my day at Disasters R Us was spent typing piles of letters. They looked perfect until I came to fold them. The business used some cheapo ink which dried slowly, so the print smudged.

When it comes to materials, you want to save money. But using low quality products that don’t do the job properly, is just a massive waste. And replacing technology that sucks can be expensive. But if it’s wasting your time, it’s losing money. And if it’s wasting the time of your staff on a regular basis, your business is probably leaking so much cash that business disaster is imminent.

Business Partnerships Often Lead To Disaster

As I said, two brothers ran Disasters R Us. And while Cain appeared to be doing bugger all, Abel ran round like a demented chicken, fixing the printers and doing meaningless tasks, like unblocking the toilet and making everyone sandwiches at lunchtime.

Halfway through the day, Cain disappeared altogether - he had a headache. This wasn’t surprising. Disasters R Us was one huge headache.

Before you enter a business partnership, ask yourself if you really need a partner and what value they will bring to the business. If you’re already in a partnership with someone who’s as much use to your business as a dinghy with a puncture, make arrangements for one of you to leave, as soon as possible. And if you’re worried about falling out with your partner, remember that the fall out will be much worse if you wait until your business finds itself in the middle of a huge disaster.

Also, realise you can’t run a business efficiently, if you’re spending most of your time doing meaningless tasks and fixing broken equipment.

Expensive Business Premises And Overstaffing Could Lead To A Massive Disaster

Disasters R Us wasn’t the type of business where customers visited the premises. Yet they had a ridiculously expensive town centre building. And because they were so unorganised, the business was paying folk to sit round talking all day.

Expensive business premises won’t add value to your customers experience - especially if they don’t see them. And even if they do, they might wonder how much you’re ripping them off to pay for overpriced office space.

Also, if you don’t have a system in place and your business is like an episode of Fawlty Towers, simply throwing more staff at the problem will lead to a huge disaster.

Last year, I interviewed Ian Denny. His small business met with disaster, when it went from £1 million a year in sales, to bust. One of the reasons for his business disaster, was not having a decent system in place and taking on more staff, instead of trying to fix the problem.

He started the business up again, put a good system in place and they were able to do the same amount of work efficiently, with far fewer staff.

Unneccessary Paperwork

On my first day at work for Disasters R Us, my boss gave me two filing trays full of letters to respond to. Some of the letters appeared to be weeks old and I had to wonder if it really was necessary to reply to most of them.

Does your business spend a lot of time doing unnecessary paperwork? Does every letter that comes into your office really need a response?

Too much time spent on trivial things, instead of activities which will make your business money, could eventually lead to a huge business disaster.

Have you ever worked at a place like Disasters R Us? Are they still in business? What other business disasters should we be trying to prevent?

Related Resources

Profiting From Misery: Is It Right For You?
Prevent Business Disaster: 7 Tips For Covering Your Ass In Business
Do You Take Precautions?
Anti-Squash Business Survival Tips
20 Things I Wish I’d Known About Business And Life When I Was 20.
Oops - I Sank A Business

Share This StumbleUpon It!


20 Responses to “Is Your Business On The Brink Of Disaster?”

  1. Brad Shorr on November 14th, 2008 2:36 pm

    Cath, Many people take comfort in the trivial and are quite happy frittering the day away with busywork. I’ve never understood this, but see it everywhere. A colleague of mine, an ardent non-time waster, used to throw away or delete any correspondence he didn’t refer to in a week’s time. His inbox and file drawers were empty, and lo and behold, his department was the most productive in the company.

    Brad Shorr’s last blog post..Use the Economic Slump to Retool for Success

  2. cathlawson on November 14th, 2008 3:12 pm

    Hi Brad - It’s so wasteful isn’t it? Some folk think they need to respond to everything. But as you say - you get a hell of a lot more done if you bin everything except the important stuff.

    When I had my Rainbow franchise I used to get heaps of long and ridiculous letters and stuff from one particular guy at head office, demanding an instant reply. It was a real pain in the ass and I don’t see how he was getting much work done, aside from writing letters.

  3. Kim Woodbridge on November 14th, 2008 3:19 pm

    I know this isn’t supposed to be a funny topic but I’m really laughing at the image of a business being run like Fawlty Towers :-)

    My job is actually kind of like that - no, not like Fawlty Towers or on the brink of disaster but my employer has three of us to do essentially the same work so there really isn’t that much for any of us to do. I don’t mind because it gives me time to work on other things. And he’s quite elderly and wealthy - he doesn’t need to make any money at this point. Sometimes I think he just keeps us around for company and because he likes us and wants to help us out. If he really needed to make more and be more efficient, he could easily get rid of two of us.

    Kim Woodbridge’s last blog post..Blogging: Do You Have Strange Habits

  4. Lillie Ammann on November 14th, 2008 7:41 pm

    I got a kick out of reading about your “dream”—it may have been a nightmare, but at least you didn’t dream about a murder like in my novel. :-) Your nightmare produced excellent advice.

    Lillie Ammann’s last blog post..By: Guest Post: ?A Twisted Tale of Cover Art?, by Lillie Ammann ? The Dark Phantom Review

  5. Kathy @ Virtual Impax on November 14th, 2008 10:33 pm

    This is actually a fairly accurate description of one of my early clients.

    In your dream, you skipped the part where the owner goes on a screaming tirade wanting to know WHO the idiot was who decided to buy the piece of sh*t printer? (Be careful how you answer, because if you point out that he was the decision maker on that one, well it will be your head that’s rolling!)

    Thanks for yet another reminder of how “sweet it is” to not be working with Disasters R Us - and how, when they end up as my client, I can just easily pass them on to someone who “deserves” their business!

    Kathy @ Virtual Impax’s last blog post..Steps to Starting a Small Business: #5 Marketing Strategies - AGAIN

  6. cathlawson on November 14th, 2008 11:45 pm

    Hi Kim - I’m guessing Fawlty Towers is another English thing you like.

    I wouldn’t mind where you’re working. Since the owner doesn’t seem to mind, you could probably run a business on the side while you’re working.

    Hi Lillie - That’s a good point, dreaming about a murder would be far worse. I’d be worrying that it was going to be a premonition of a real murder, the same as in your book.

    Hi Kathy - That must have been a nightmare client - I would definitely pass on them too. I read somewhere that we are often sent places in our dreams to help folk out in another universe. I’m really hoping they don’t send me back to that place again tonight.

  7. Dennis Edell on November 15th, 2008 1:48 am

    Hey Cath, I just came across from Barbara’s interview on BWAB and would like to subscribe via email…could you please enable the option? :)
    Dennis Edell’s last blog post..We Will Stay Do-Follow, But…

  8. Davina on November 15th, 2008 4:30 am

    Hi Cath. Faulty Towers… yeah! Time management IS crucial in business. It’s funny, cause we have so many time-keeping options in this modern age. Yet, when I was working I would often hear people say “Oh, I’m crazy busy,” and then half an hour later I’d see them chatting in the hallway or hear them “killing time” visiting in the next office.

    Either they can’t be as busy as they say if they have time to chit-chat, or their work wasn’t that important after all, or it’s because they are wasting time that they are suddenly crazy busy.

    I saw that a lot at my last job. No wonder they had to lay 14 people off. Trouble is, they laid off the ones who were carrying the weight for the others. I worked close to 40 hours of unpaid overtime the last few weeks before they laid me off…. Their loss…. my gain now that I come to think of it.

    Davina’s last blog post..Video ? Preparation Inspires Self-Confidence

  9. wilhb81 on November 15th, 2008 10:31 am

    Cath, when I first reading this article, a question suddenly popped out from my mind…

    “Why there are still many companies wasting their precious time on useless paperworks, since it’s an inefficient and material wasting method?”

    wilhb81’s last blog post..Business one-liners 30

  10. cathlawson on November 15th, 2008 12:28 pm

    Hi Dennis - Thanks for dropping by. I haven’t bumped into you for ages. I’ve not had time to visit the WAHM boards much lately.

    The subscribe by email box is a bit confusing, as it looks more like a search box. It’s the one in the right hand side of the header. You just enter your email in there and click go.

    Hi Davina - It’s annoying isn’t it? I’ve noticed that in a couple of places I’ve worked in - the ones who do less being more valued. A lot of the time, it’s because they spend time talking to folk who are above them.

    Another reason I’ve noticed some slackers being favoured in the workplace, is that they don’t pose a threat to folk who are directly above them. My immediate boss, when I was only 18 was truly feckless and she felt threatened by me. I didn’t realise that at the time.

    The more extra stuff I did - the more it annoyed her, but I was only trying to help. Looking back, it wasn’t helping, because my presence made the fact that she sucked at her job stand out even more.

    Anyway - like you say, it’s their loss. You have more important things to do now.

    Hi Wilh - I guess it’s force of habit. But you’re right - it’s such a waste. It bugs me that so many businesses use fax machines too. They’re so unnecessary now.

  11. Jannie on November 15th, 2008 5:45 pm

    “A partnership is a poor ship to sail on” is one of the first things I heard my husband’s business mentor say to him, over 18 years ago. Even brothers often can’t make it work.

    Basil - his whole problem was he didn’t listen to Sybil’s good business sense, was too busy brown-nosing the spoon salesman “Hotel Inspector” or trying to impress a higher class of clientele with Gourmet Nights to pay attention to his little pirahna fish’s advice.

    The Waldorf Salad - favorite Fawlty Towers episode. Of course the American does say “kick his ass” in it so that was icing on that episode’s cake for me.

    Cath, how’d you get to be so samrt??

    Jannie’s last blog post..Why Thursdays rule

  12. cathlawson on November 15th, 2008 7:34 pm
    Hi Jannie - that’s a brilliant quote. I know what you mean re: brothers. My brothers are now in a partnership with my parents. But if they ever retire, I don’t know that my brothers will be able to make it work together.

    I love how you people from the States watch Fawlty Towers. I love it. My favourite episode is probably “The Germans”.

    The only reason I got smarter was by screwing up lots. When I was younger, I was probably the most naive person on earth. I was v keen to learn but gullible. At my first Saturday job, I was always the one who got sent for things like tartan paint and long stands. Oh - and how could I forget - the left handed screwdriver.

  13. Dennis Edell on November 15th, 2008 10:56 pm

    Hi Cath - I’m no longer on the wahm boards either.

    i did use the right box. An error returned saying email had not been enabled.


    Dennis Edell’s last blog post..We Will Stay Do-Follow, But…

  14. Stacey / Create a Balance on November 15th, 2008 11:07 pm

    I don’t have a business on the brink of disaster, but thanks for letting me know what I need to look out for as I venture forward.

    Stacey / Create a Balance’s last blog post..21 Reasons to Schedule a Weekly Night Out for Yourself

  15. Ian Denny on November 16th, 2008 4:48 am

    Hi Cath,

    Thanks for the mention! I don’t deserve it because I don’t comment now as often as I used to!

    Are you sure that was a dream? It’s actually quite a common reality!

    And I can assure you I’ve been there! If you reverse all the things you point out, efficiency and fun comes back into the business.

    Systems are so crucial. They automate stuff - so you can either redeploy staff to more productive tasks - like talking to clients! - or take on more clients.

    And opportunity cost is a big issue you raise. Spend an extra £100 on a printer, and save losing hundreds each week keeping crappy printers alive. I’ve seen partners in companies who charge out £150 or more per hour, crawling under desks fixing PCs and all sorts of IT issues.

    They lose hours and huge fees each week, when it costs a fraction to just let us do it for them. Where’s the sense?

    We have a city centre office. No plush meeting rooms. Clients don’t visit. But we can walk to over 50% of our clients. When you do the sums, it’s more expensive to run vans, and lose the travel time, city centre traffic, parking, petrol etc. So it’s cheaper to be in the centre than outside!

    I’ve been quiet by the way because the credit crunch has been an absolute blessing for us. Companies shedding staff are replacing them with people like us.

    So you could say that the credit crunch is turning these dreams into a focused reality where people are having to navel-gaze and see where their inefficiencies are.

    Not only do people outsource to us, but we outsourced many functions following our re-birth. Telephone answering for example.

    Our call volumes have more than doubled since we started outsourcing. We would have taken on more staff to cope with that. But we didn’t need to. The bill has gone up by about 25%, but that is still only a fraction of the employment, recruitment, training etc costs we would have had to bare - as well as the delays in reacting to the increase.

    So I’d add that outrsourcing wherever possible gives you flexibility to contract in bad times easily, or expand without delay if the good times are rolling.

    Ian Denny’s last blog post..IT Helpdesk And Field Support Vacancies

  16. cathlawson on November 16th, 2008 3:38 pm

    Hi Dennis - That’s a shame as you helped a lot of people over there. But it’s hard to get enough time in the day I guess.

    Thank you for letting me know about the subscribe by email problem. I just tried it and it looks like it’s never worked since I had the re-design. I’m trying to fix it now and I’ll email you when I’m done.

    Hi Stacy - you’re welcome. It’s good to know these things beforehand.

    Hi Ian - No worries - I know you are busy. It was a real dream but I suppose it reminded me of some things I’d experienced in real life. I remember replacing an expensive printer/fax all in one thing because my admin girls said the fax wasn’t working, only to find the “unreceived” faxes hidden in a drawer a few weeks later.

    Being able to walk to 50% of your clients is amazing. That is something I’d never considered before - probably because I live in the sticks.

    I was wondering if you were still using that telephone answering service. Are you still using the original one?

    It sounds like you are really benefiting from the credit crunch then. I would like to interview you about this, if you get time. I’m betting many other types of business could take advantage of the situation too.

  17. Dennis Edell on November 17th, 2008 3:25 am

    Thanks Cath, I look forward to the email. If you wish to know about the wahm boards, include that in the email as well. :)
    Dennis Edell’s last blog post..UPDATED - We Will Stay Do-Follow, But…

  18. Barbara Swafford - Blogging Without A Blog on November 18th, 2008 6:54 am

    Hi Catherine - It is unfortunate when we see businesses that do have potential go down the toilet because management has no clue how to run a business. I know of businesses where the employees have access to the internet or a phone and the greater part of their day is spent on personal stuff instead of work. It makes you wonder, who is minding the “store”?

    Barbara Swafford - Blogging Without A Blog’s last blog post..A.S.K. Darren Rowse - Problogger - What Is The Future Of Blogging

  19. cathlawson on November 18th, 2008 8:20 am

    Hi Dennis - you’re welcome. I’m still working on fixing it. I tried to delete the box and just add a link but that made a hash of the whole header.

    Hi Barbara - I was just reading an article on folk doing the very things you mentioned yesterday. Apparently, an average of 25% of work time is lost on folk doing personal stuff.

    It’s difficult to stop folk doing that when your business uses the Internet unfortunately. I remember reading a business forum once and this girl used to post all day, while at work, complaining about how much she hated the place she worked.

    I’m going to tackle the time waste issue again in another post. I don’t know if you remember but I ruffled a lot of feathers when I blogged about folk stealing time from work last year, as many people didn’t see it as stealing. So I’m trying to come up with a better solution that will work for everyone.

  20. Dennis Edell on November 19th, 2008 2:15 am

    No problem, take your time. :)
    Dennis Edell’s last blog post..$5 Paypal For The Best Favicon Idea!

Got something to say?

E-mail It