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Sunday, 17 July 2011

How to go broke – a beginners’ guide

Did you smile at the title?

After all, nearly all new businesses go broke anyhow. Who needs a guide?

There are two reasons.

First, if you’re going to fail, why waste time? Why spend more sleepless nights that you need? This handy guide is a helpful public service.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to fail, this will tell you what not to do.

It is called a beginners’ guide, but don’t let that fool you. It will work not just the first time you want to go broke but every time.

I should explain that it is not a frivolous exercise or work of fiction.

It is prompted partly by recalling some of the stupid things I have done myself, but enriched by the depressing spectacle of watching a firm with a good business but a quite remarkable ability to do the wrong thing.

It is written from a marketer’s perspective, not just because that is what I know about, but because besides having a good product or service, good marketing (or bad) often makes the most difference in business. I call in evidence firms like Procter & Gamble, Virgin, Google and Apple.

So here’s what to do – or avoid. You choose.

1. Whenever possible put things off. Never do today what you can do in three months or never. If it looks like something is about to be done, have a meeting.

2. When you do have a meeting, make sure as many people are there as possible, especially those who know nothing about the subject. The aim should be a) to avoid making a decision and b) to fix the time of the next meeting. This works very well in government so it should be good enough for you.

3. Don’t measure boring things like what results your advertising produces. True, it will tell you what works or what doesn’t, but it really does take far too much time and discipline. Why not just do what you like, or even better what your wife and friends like?

4. Don’t test before you invest, because you will remove the thrill of gambling. Just spend away and wait to see if your efforts have worked afterwards. What fun if things seem to work! And if they don’t, well, you’ll go broke even faster.

5. If by chance you do get cajoled into testing, for God’s sake don’t test one approach against another, because you might find out the best way to invest your money. This will delay your bankruptcy no end.

6. Don’t waste your time studying marketing, and discourage your staff from doing so. It’s deadly dull, and you are probably a natural marketer anyhow. It’s just commonsense, after all. Be strict about this and get your priorities right. If someone offers to teach you about it for nothing but it clashes with your holiday plans, go on holiday. You’re bound to have more fun. If you see any books about marketing in the office, burn them.

7. If you decide you do want help in marketing, get some people to come in and do presentations. Choose the ones you like. They can pick up what your business is about as they go along.

8. If they talk to you about awareness, rebranding, CRM, SEO, social media or anything else they promise will solve your problems at a stroke, take their word for it. Don’t ask them what they mean or how they can prove it. This would be a foolish admission of weakness on your part and even if you insist you won’t know what they’re talking about.

9. If by chance you end up with competent people, when they ask you tricky questions like why you’re doing things ignore them. Let them work it out for themselves. They’re the experts, aren’t they? Why should you reveal your business secrets?

10. Always take as long as possible to pay them (and haggle with them as much as possible). This will conserve your cash but this will be more than counterbalanced because instead of working for you they will a) prefer to work for someone else and b) spend too much time justifying their charges to waste much on you.

This does not purport to be a complete guide to all the ways you can screw things up. I have not considered the consequences that flow from hiring too many people or getting a fancy headquarters building, but it should just about do the trick.

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