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Weathering Your Business's Midlife Crisis

(August 2006) posted on Sun Sep 10, 2006

Learn how to avoid common missteps during the most critical times.

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By Gordon Roberts

A recent Department of Commerce survey stated that the average lifespan of a successful business is between 15 and 20 years, with many businesses staying the course for a much longer period. The survey also reported that a successful business weathers several critical points during its life. The authors reviewed thousands of subjects and found a definite pattern that seemed to set the successful businesses apart from their failing competitors.

The critical points are not the usual vagaries of the market—economic downturns and natural disasters—but the roadblocks that present themselves routinely when you try to grow a business successfully. The companies that managed the greatest longevity found ways to steer themselves through difficult periods and emerge triumphant on the other side. This month, I'll cover some of the big moments a business faces.

Start up

The start-up stage, one we're all familiar with, involves finding capital, identifying and developing a product, securing financing, employing a workforce, and being competitive. In the screen-printing world, this stage is a heady time when you realize that your start-up status gives you the opportunity to be a mean and lean business machine. Overhead is low, and your workforce, which most often includes yourself, is willing to work as much as necessary to get the job done. The rent is low—in many cases the shop is located in the garage where the family car used to sit—and the cost of doing business is so small that you can make a product at prices that the more established shops are unable to beat. Soon, you generate a little cash and move out of the garage into an industrial park with all the increased costs that come along with that territory. This move brings you to the next stage.

Grow the business


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