20 Traits that lead to a business train wreck!


Everyone starts their business with the intent to win…unfortunately many a well intentioned business owner gets derailed along the way and it all comes crashing down.  Sometimes the best way to succeed in the long run is to identify the issues…what’s driving you towards a potential train wreck and then focus on fixing those issues first. 

To that end, I spent some quality time with my clients and Peer Group Advisory Board members and asked them what qualities or traits were required for long term success as a business owner…and inversely what qualities would guarantee a business train wreck in the long run. 

That led to the following list.  It’s a pretty powerful collection and odds are you’re dealing with at least a couple of these issues to some degree…but as they say, the first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have one!

Check out the list below and see if you might be headed for a train wreck…!

1. Don’t ever change

You’re old school and proud of it – that’s the way we’ve always done things!  Change is hard.

2. Make it up as you go

You don’t have the time or the patience to document things or develop repeatable processes (waste of time) so you and your employees just  play it by ear.  Of course bringing on a new employee takes forever…but at least you’re not wasting time.

3. Blend in

You make sure that you look and sound as much like your competitors as possible.  You copy their ads, you mimic their products and pricing and you make sure you don’t stand out in any positive way.

4. Keep your head down

You make sure to focus all of your time on fighting fires and being a hero in your business.  Why waste time on long range planning, looking at things strategically or mapping out what’s most important for your growth.

5. Be strong and silent

Knowledge is power and you certainly don’t want to let your employees or partners in on what’s going on.  Your leadership style is command and control and minimal communication – you don’t have time for telling everyone what’s going on, if they’re any good they’ll figure it out on their own.

6. Wait for the economy to bail you out

This downturn is totally out of your control and there’s no point in working too hard.  Your best bet is to just wait for things to turn around and play the victim in the meantime.

7. Exit plans are for losers

Why would you need an exit plan?  You’re not planning on going anywhere and besides you could totally sell your business for several million dollars anytime you wanted to (even if you’ve never done a valuation on it).

8. Quick to hire, slow to fire

People are people, anyone on the bus will do – you’re just looking for warm bodies to fill a seat and they all perform the same way.  If you do have a problem employee, it’s clearly better to just leave them alone and hope they go away on their own.  It’s painful to get rid of someone and you don’t want to look like the bad guy!

9. Be a world class juggler

A master at multi tasking.  If you and your team don’t have at least 20 critical priorities to work on all the time, there’s something wrong…and you definitely aren’t going to waste any time writing things down or prioritizing – where’s the challenge in that?

10. Live on the edge…

No money in the bank and payroll due in 3 days?  No problem, you’ll pull a rabbit out of your hat just like you have the last 6 times this has happened this year.  Can you believe some people think you should have 6 months of emergency reserves in cash?

11. Aren’t rollercoasters cool?

You enjoy the thrill of the hunt, landing that big client or opportunity.  Then you have to do the work.  Then you realize the works over and you don’t have any money left and you go off to hunt the next one. Not for you that boring steady recurring and predictable stream of cash.

12. Your customers are lucky to have you

Your customers don’t have any idea how much trouble they put you and your employees through.  They interrupt you, they ask for things, they expect help and support – that’s crazy!

13. Your employees like money

Your employees don’t really buy into what the company is doing and they don’t really like to work very hard…and they don’t seem to care about anything (except maybe money), but they do like to hang out and complain, but that’s how all companies are right?

14. Average is good enough

It takes a lot of time and effort to create a high quality product or service…besides you can just tell people it’s great (even though it’s average).  They’ll probably buy at least once, which is good enough to keep things going in the short term.

15. You’re really busy

People call you all the time, but they clearly don’t realize how busy you are. They send emails, they try to give you referrals or try to partner with you…you even have potential customers contacting you with questions, but you’re so busy you can’t get back to them. 

16. Work has to come first…always

This owning your own business thing is really hard and if you’re going to be great, you need to throw yourself 110% into what it takes to succeed.  Your family and friends will understand you not being around and you don’t really need any time off.

17. The ends totally justify the means

Sometimes it’s a challenge to keep all of the stories straight, but that’s far better than the alternative of just being honest with people.  A few people might notice that you’re not completely above board, but who could they possibly tell?  It’s not like it’s easy to share complaints or stories with the world these days?

18. It’s all about the money

Can you believe people buy your stuff?  If you ever win the lottery, you’re never going to do this kind of work again, but until then as long as someone will pay you for it, you’re in.  You don’t have to love what you’re doing…do  you?

19. You are an island

You know what you’re doing, you never have any doubts or questions and you certainly wouldn’t benefit from someone or a group looking over your shoulder, keeping you in line and helping you.

20. You already know that

People actually waste their time on books, training, workshops and that kind of bunk!  You’ve been doing this business thing a long time and clearly know all there is to know – which is why you’ve got plenty of time for reality television!

Take an honest look at the list – do any of these remotely sound like your situation?  If more t
han a couple of these make you feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable, then you’re going to have a hard succeeding in the long run.

What train wrecking traits did I miss? Do you disagree with any?  How do you stack up?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

Photo is from Paris in 1895 and is public domain – you can learn more here

4 thoughts on “20 Traits that lead to a business train wreck!”

  1. Joe Steinlage says:

    Great points in this one! Even scarier for the small business owner is what if all of their managers (even if it is just one or two) think the same way? I see this mentality at management/middle management levels in large corporations and it does not produce positive results.
    Have an exceptional week!

  2. Joe – thanks for the comment. A lot of the things on this list are very common…and you make a great point that it’s not just the owner who can drive the negative impact…in a small business it only takes a couple of people (especially managers) to really set the tone and bring things down (or up for that matter!).


  3. Garet King says:

    What I see leading to trainwrecks both in business and in projects around my house is people are passionate and excited about a new change and jump right in without proper planning – the old ‘look before you leap’ saying. Taking the time to assess risk, worst-case scenario, the effect on finances (cash flow), etc. allows people to make the right decision more often. Just don’t ask the woman of the house about this, she just might be able to go on about “my projects” for days.

  4. Shawn,

    It’s all there. Brilliant and succinct.

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