Why Businesses Fail, Stories of People Not Showing Up

I’m constantly amazed at some people’s lack of ability to show up in business

Some statistics say 9/10 new business owners fail within their first year. Others say it’s 75% failure within the first 6 months. A newer study says 50% of businesses make it five years. I used to believe that it was a culmination of factors that contributed to those failure numbers, but I believe it’s actually one simple thing:

Not showing up and doing the thing you set out to do.

Why businesses fail

Three stories of business owners not showing up

Don’t worry, this article isn’t just a rant-fest. I’m simply setting the stage to talk about how you can avoid the mistakes I’ve been seeing recently and hopefully have your business avoid failure.

1. I had a custom wood project I wanted to get done. I reached out to, and this is not an exaggeration, 14 companies*. Not a single one of them was good at communication. The worst part? I had a sizable budget for the project (over $10,000) and wanted to give that money to someone for the work they say they do for a living. I eventually found a recommendation through a friend who showed up. The other 14, never did.

2. We joined a local gym** and were told that they do meal prep (something we’ve been subscribing to for a year now). I shared the exact amount of meals we were paying for, how much we were paying, and that we’d love to move to a local company (them!) Over the course of a month, I followed up 3 times, and finally gave up. That same gym was always empty, always trying to run specials/deals to attract customers, the owner was never there, and can you guess what happened? Two months later their doors were closed.

3. Trying to find a good UI designer. This one starts all the way back in 2013, when I decided to create my first online course. I scoured the web for a simple and affordable platform to make that process easy. To my surprise, there weren’t too many options. So I did what any entrepreneur does: I figured out a way to solve my own problem. Using my mediocre design skills, I whipped up a layout for a course design and paid a developer to shoehorn it into a WordPress theme that would accept payments. A couple hours of work and $2,000 later, I had a completely functioning online course that worked exactly as I wanted.

I showed it to a few friends, who loved my cobbled-together solution so much they wanted to know how they could get their hands on one to build their own courses. Problem was, they couldn’t. Since I’d just made it up for myself, it didn’t exist for sale.

Lightbulb moment!

Fast forward a year, and I found myself at a conference in Fargo, ND, talking with a developer (hello, Gerlando!) who was looking for a side project. Did I know of any opportunities? I did, in fact! Without giving you all the boring details, we partnered up to transform my cobbled solution into an independent platform, and Teachery was born a few months later. A beautiful bouncing baby of an online course platform!

What the heck does all that have to do with showing up?

Well, I did the majority of the initial design work for Teachery (alongside my wife, Caroline, who did the awesome branding and initial sales page). That first course design work is from 2014, so it’s been an eternity (in internet years) since we first put it together. As Teachery has grown in popularity (and monthly recurring revenue), we’ve been putting our pennies aside to pay someone to give our course platform a facelift, eyebrow tuck, and maybe a little nose job. You know, freshen up Teachery to a more modern design.

That brings us to the search for a UI designer

I contacted UI designers from multiple places: Dribbble, DesignerNews, and directly emailing designers that had emailed me in the past (yay Gmail labels!) All I wanted to do was put money in their bank account to do a few hours of the thing they like to get paid for (or so say their bios).

I reached out to six designers*** and besides the beautiful portfolios, all six designers had one thing in common: they didn’t show up.

One designer wrote back to my initial outreach within 24 hours. Awesome! I love quick communication, although it’s not a must as I embrace the need for work-life balance. We set up a Skype call a few days after the initial email reply. Can you see where this is going? I logged in to Skype 30 minutes early because if you’re not early, you’re late (thanks, high school basketball coach!). I sent the designer a message that I was ready whenever he was, but no rush as I knew I was early. 15 minutes passed. I could see a green icon next to his name saying he was online. 35 minutes passed. He was now late (and, per my high school coach, should be running extra laps). I sent a friendly nudge of a message: “You still good to chat?” No reply. I waited another 15 minutes and begrudgingly signed out of Skype to fire off a friendlier email than I would have liked: “Hey man, looks like today’s call time didn’t work out? Can we reschedule?” A day later, he replied, and we set up another call. I hopped on Skype. He was online. Again, he didn’t show up at the agreed-upon time. Four hours after the scheduled call, he sent a message: “Ready to chat?” To be clear, there was no timezone scheduling error—that I made sure of early on. No, man, I’m not ready to chat, and I won’t be giving you our hard-earned money for your work.

You might think it was just that one designer, right? Well, an eerily similar thing happened in different fashions with each designer.

Four of the six, in fact. Either they stopped emailing me back after being excited to chat in the first reply, or they just didn’t even show up for the Skype calls we scheduled.

I completely understand that schedules and priorities can change, but with a lack of any communication to cancel our calls, these designers are creating a bad experience that will hurt their reputation and brand. These are the exact things that causes businesses to fail.

Let’s talk about how you can show up and avoid having business failure

First: Just show the hell up

If you say you’re going to be on a call, be on the call when you agreed to be on it. If something comes up, be honest about what came up. Respect the other person’s time as much as you respect your own.

Second: Show up by saying “No”

Don’t want to do the work? That’s fine—just communicate that with a simple two-letter word: “No.” Don’t say “Yes” and then bail because you’ve changed your mind. Give someone the respect they deserve, and be man/woman enough to say that you aren’t interested. Don’t hide behind the empty replies of email and Skype to avoid letting someone down. You actually let people down even more when you don’t extend common courtesy.

Third: Show up by communicating

Can’t make a scheduled call? Tell the person, and show up at the rescheduled time. Can’t get the work done on time? Explain why, and be transparent with the person who’s paying you money. If you have a problem with scheduling (and sticking to deadlines/schedules), then figure out a new system for making scheduling work for you. There are 100 ways to skin a Google Calendar.

The not-so-surprising result of showing up: you run a profitable business

I know a lot of starving artists/entrepreneurs/writers/business owners. You know who I also know a lot of? People who don’t show up. People who don’t keep their word. People who don’t do just the basic amount of things to accomplish what they set out to do. If people spent more time showing up and delivering, they’d spend way less time having to figure out tactics and strategies to get more paying work or customers.

Some of the most successful people I know do a couple very simple things:

  • They promptly communicate (or outsource to someone to do it for them)
  • They manage expectations and don’t over-promise anything
  • They get their work done and deliver exactly what they said they would, when they said they would
  • They are honest and treat people with the respect they want
  • They get the majority of their clients/customers from word of mouth
  • People like them, a lot!

This isn’t rocket science, people. Showing up is your first and most recurring chance to demonstrate consistency in service and quality. If you do it, you’re already better than the majority of your competitors. If you don’t, well…people are probably writing frustrated articles about you.

Business owners aren’t failing because there is too much competition. Business owners aren’t failing because people can get the work cheaper elsewhere.

Business owners are failing because they don’t show up. They don’t communicate effectively. They don’t do the thing they set out to do.

Show up. Communicate. Do the work.


A couple footnotes:

* Here’s the breakdown of the 14 woodworker responses, just to ensure that I defend my integrity: 4 companies wrote back and said they love the idea for the project and would get me a quote (even after I followed up again a week after each positive response, I never heard back). 3 companies have not responded after multiple emails and admitted they were “slow at responding to email.” 4 companies wrote back initially, gave a generic quote, and didn’t write back when I asked for more information or next steps based on their quote. 2 companies simply never replied to my first email (and the follow-up I sent). 1 company said they weren’t the right fit for the project, which was refreshing to hear.

** I promise you I’m not making this up, the local gym we joined closed the week before posting this article. Apparently the owner was doing some really sketchy stuff behind the scenes. I saw the red flags early and I can’t say I’m too surprised (however bummed) the gym closed.

*** There is one designer who has been great at communicating and that we are in talks with for the Teachery UI work. I wanted to make sure to share this and will continue to update this note as that relationship progresses.