Six lessons in avoiding failure

I recently wrote about what I learned about success from a panel conversation with seven successful entrepreneurs from Harrogate. These entrepreneurs have built brands such as Slingsby Gin and H2K Cosmetics of Harrogate.

During the same discussion the host, Sally Roberts, asked them what had nearly stopped their success. There was plenty to pay attention to here as well. 

I wonder if you recognise any of these barriers? I know I did both from my own experience of running three businesses and from the businesses of the clients I work with. Here are the main themes:


This manifests itself in many ways. Fear of failure is one thing that drives a lot of business owners to put in more hours. On the panel this was expressed as fear of not being able to solve a problem, which drove a need for almost constant learning. 

The way to turn this into a positive – as the entrepreneur in Harrogate expressed and as I often say – is using this fear to drive you to always look for ways to improve and increase your knowledge. As the saying goes “necessity is the mother of invention”. Doing this means you can continue to be useful to clients and keep yourself one step ahead of the competition. 


The untimely and unexpected death of a family member for one Harrogate entrepreneur and of two fellow directors for another put things into sharp perspective, but also threatened the businesses. While death is a hard fact of life, it’s also something that takes a huge amount to recover from, and to do that while holding things together in a business is no small achievement. Both entrepreneurs flipped this negative into a positive mindset by vowing to build a business their family and fellow directors would be proud of.

How would your business survive with the untimely death of somebody you rely heavily on?  Do you have a contingency plan?


It’s the number one reason businesses go bust and it was no different for these successful business owners. Without cash you can’t invest in your systems, people and marketing, which means you will quickly fall behind the competition.

I always say that cash isn’t the problem, it’s the symptom of the problem. If you have regular profitable sales and your costs under control, then you generate cash, simple. But it can still cause issues – one of the panel recounted a particularly difficult encounter with a bank which tried to declare the business insolvent despite it never having missed a payment. He borrowed money from wherever he could to cover what he needed to and sold the business a few years later for £90m.

The easy route

They say there’s no traffic on the extra mile because no one else is taking it and all of the Harrogate panel were agreed that cruising at minimum effort is not the way to build a successful business. People that stand out take the difficult route, not the easy one, so if you’re striving for success and feel like taking the easy road, know that it doesn’t always lead to fulfilment, or success. 


At the risk of sounding like an article from a psychology magazine, there really is a lot to be said for a positive attitude. If you think you’re beaten, or that you can’t solve the problem you’re facing, then you have already given up. It’s not about being blind to the reality but about assuming you can figure it out and using that as your starting point. As Henry Ford said, if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. 


Not having the right support network. Being the smartest in the room. Not being brave enough to get rid of the brilliant jerks. There are so many ways that people can get in the way of your success. For me personally, the biggest difference to my business success happened when I got a business mentor. I also learn every day from the bunch of smart people I am privileged to have around me. I’ve worked hard to build that team (and I’ve kissed a lot of frogs, so to speak) knowing the importance of surrounding myself with a team that is highly talented and value aligned. 

What are the things that nearly scuppered your business success? Do you recognise any of these barriers? Maybe you’ve had a close shave yourself in your business. 

The full panel was:

  • Neil Richards-Smith, of NCI Vehicle Rescue
  • Marcus Black, Spirit of Harrogate and InterContinental Brands
  • Hazel Barry, H2K Cosmetics of Harrogate
  • Jaqui Hall, CNG Ltd
  • Neil Addley, JudgeService Research
  • Peter Bates, Ellis Bates Financial Advisers
  • Scott Mackintosh, Think Methodology

Thank you Sally for the invite and for being a wonderful facilitator.

Related resources:

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