Learn from the regrets of other small business owners

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By Michelle Van Schouwen

When talking shop, owners of small companies often share their regrets with me. Without revealing their personal details, I’d like to share a few top-line issues with you, in hopes that you can avoid getting into similar situations.

Location and space:

“I opened my shop in a familiar neighborhood, but the traffic patterns are such that many people don’t even turn into the parking lot. I’ve had to offer all kinds of sales and premiums to bring in customers. Can’t wait until my lease is up and I can move.”

“I signed a long lease and I’m not even sure I want to run the business for many more years.”

Line of business:

“My business premise is a lot less relevant to customers than it was five years ago. I am unsure how to transition.”

“My work is very physical and I’m not sure how long I can keep it up. I don’t think I can afford to hire someone who does what I do.”

“There’s not a lot of money in this business sector. I thought I’d be the exception.”

“I don’t really like what I do anymore.”

“My partner and I are so burned out. We work ten hours a day.”

“Why did I choose a business in which the customers are such jerks?”

Partners and employees:

“I kept marginal employees on for too long. They cost me more than they were worth – by a lot.”

“I partnered with my sibling. All I can say is – think twice before you choose any partner, especially a family member.”

“I tried to be friends with my staff. What’s the saying? ‘If you want loyalty, get a dog.'”

Financial issues:

“I wish I was better at accounting and tax planning. My ignorance has cost me.”

“We borrowed to get through COVID. I think we’re going to be in the hole for a while.”

“Revenue is so uneven. Maybe a third of the time, I can’t pay myself. I’m lucky to pay the bills.”

“My financial person embezzled from the company.”

“My spouse drained the account for gambling money. It didn’t take long.”

“I lost half the value of the business in a divorce. Can you spell ‘prenuptial’? Wish I’d had one.”

Exit plan:

“I thought I’d be able to sell the company to help fund my retirement, but no one is buying it.”

“My kids don’t want to take over. I’d counted on them.”

“I had to close down, leaving clients and employees in the lurch. I wish I’d made a plan before I got sick.”

Can you avoid every one of these scenarios? Perhaps not. But run down the list and consider which of the above may be relevant to you – and then consider what you can do to avoid your own regrets. Better now than later!


Michelle van Schouwen is principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, she sold vSA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.

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