Why Do Businesses Fail?

Passion doesn’t pay the bills

By Jeff Simms

Lauree Ostrofsky, a life coach and author, is the founder of Hudson Valley Women in Business. In 2013 she published a memoir, I’m scared & doing it anyway, that chronicles an epiphany she had while recovering from a brain tumor. In December she released her latest book, Simply Leap, which addresses how to take the risks necessary to make changes in your life.

Lauree Ostrofsky (File photo by A. Rooney)

The Current asked Ostrofsky about some of the common questions she hears from entrepreneurs.

Why do so many small businesses fail?

When I see businesses open and close, I see people taking risks. What I like about what I’m seeing in Cold Spring and Beacon is the cycle. There are more entrepreneurs all the time and they’re looking for opportunities or ways to solve problems. It makes me feel positive about what’s happening in the area.

Also, when we think of Cold Spring and Beacon, we think of storefronts. We forget how many small businesses are service oriented, home-based or traveling. We don’t always get a full sense of the businesses in our region by looking at storefronts.

What are some of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make?

What does make a successful business is the idea itself and the clarity of the idea. Most business owners start out of passion for an idea or for serving a specific customer. That propels you a good part of the way but it can’t sustain you the whole time.

Then there’s the business plan and “how is this going to run?” You have to have the passion “hat” to begin with and then there’s the completely different hat, which is the business hat. That is the ability to look at a spreadsheet, the ability to read numbers.

What makes someone more successful is having the passion and having the ability of separating themselves from their business — enough to see if it’s viable or to ask what would make it more viable. Also, do you have the right structure in place, including people you can count on and advisors? Who you have in your corner is important.

How can you tell if a small-business owner will be successful?

One of the things I listen for is confidence — how you actually talk about the business. When we have something to give and we feel strongly about it, we don’t always think about getting paid. There needs to be confidence in talking about the money side of things. You need to know what your product or service costs and know that it’s worth it. It’s not just that you’re confident about your idea, it’s that there’s a worthiness to it, too.

When people are successful they have a strong foundation. They have strong and clear expectations, even energy- and time-wise, in addition to financially. Sometimes it’s a surprise how much owning a business takes out of your mental, physical and emotional life.

Can the Highlands sustain a small-business economy?

There is no way that my group would have gone from five members in December 2014 to nearly 800 if it couldn’t. New people are coming out of the woodwork. I feel like small businesses are seeing the influx of people coming here and they’re coming out to serve that.

As far as any closure that you see — I’m not seeing shut doors that stay shut. I’m seeing shut doors and then something else opening that’s more interesting. It’s people working out the ideas of what’s going to serve the changing dynamic of our communities.

Businesses are a visible way that we can see the shift to serve the changing community. Business owners are learning by trial and error. That’s what I see when someone’s closing. I think, I wonder how they’re going to re-shape this idea. I wonder what their next business is going to be. When I see a closure I think that person isn’t done. They’re just tweaking this, or they’re going on to something else. Once you’ve got that personality, you’re going to do it again.

4 thoughts on “Why Do Businesses Fail?

  1. Thanks for this article. As a small (micro) business owner in Cold Spring, I can appreciate the advice. That being said, no mention was made about the hostile business climate that exists in the Village as opposed to all the support that local government provides for Beacon entrepreneurs No matter how wonderful your business is, if your local government is not being helpful, they can make your life very unpleasant.

    I have watched with envy as my colleagues in Beacon are flourishing thanks in no small part to having had a succession of mayors and boards that value small business. Meanwhile in Cold Spring, which is one of the top tourism venues in New York, just the opposite is true. Our local governing body considers small business and the tourists we draw to be a problem. Main Street could be thriving if we had an enlightened mayor and trustees.

  2. Dutchess County shares its sales tax revenue with towns and cities. Beacon, as an entity, therefore has a direct incentive to promote retail business because it puts money into the city’s hands to deploy for maintenance, improvements or tax relief.

    What, directly, does the Village of Cold Spring gain from an increase in foot traffic? More trash to pick up, more public bathroom repairs, more wear and tear on sidewalks and only a drib-drab of parking and boat-docking revenue to show for it. No sales tax. No Business Improvement District revenue. Nothing.

    I am not suggesting the people of Cold Spring or its board/mayor turn their back on small businesses. But I am suggesting Putnam County lacks the structural incentives to best support local business/town/village cooperation.

    • I hope county officials will give careful thought to Mr. Daly’s comment, and to the issue of Putnam County’s failure to share sales-tax revenue with its towns and villages. When a community seems obstinate and irrational, as Cold Springers are often portrayed with regard to their concerns about tourism, the economic logic is frequently overlooked or dismissed. People aren’t stupid. Aligning the interests of residents with those of its sales tax revenue-generating businesses is critically important to the future of Putnam County’s economic development which, I agree with Patty Villanova, depends on tourism.

      Several years ago, as part of the development of a Comprehensive Plan for the Village of Cold Spring (I chaired the Special Board for five years), I reviewed revenue data for villages similar to Cold Spring in New York State. Of the 95 villages in New York State that were most-like Cold Spring, only six (in 2008) did not receive a share of their county’s sales tax revenue. The county’s excuse that it doesn’t have the money because of mandates is transparently phony. Consider the fact that the country will not even contemplate sharing sales tax revenue when it comes in over what was budgeted, and consider, too, that the vast majority of counties in the state — who pay for the same mandates — manage to share sales tax revenue. What is lacking in Putnam County is the political will to do so, plain and simple.

  3. “I became a billionaire by selling umbrellas when it was raining outside.” ~ H. Ross Perot