According to figures reported by the Small Business Administration, which defines small business as a firm with fewer than 500 employees, about half of all new businesses fail to survive five years, and two-thirds fail to reach ten years in business.

A university study published in 2013 provided reasons for failures, by percentage. Incompetence was the number one reason, accounting for 46% of such failures, but under that simple heading things quickly become complicated, as the study lists the many pitfalls that are the shape-shifting form that incompetence takes: living too high for the business, nonpayment of taxes, lack of planning, no knowledge of financing, no experience in record-keeping, no knowledge of pricing. Reading this, one might suppose it is competence that is the key to survival. That seems to be the wrong word entirely.

Flexibility might be better, as the quality most critical to small business survival, followed by or coupled with humility. What may be most dangerous to a small business is the possession of rigid ideas, which often masquerade as principles, and which more often than not turn out to be nothing more than bad judgment – leading to an unwillingness to see, much less take advantage of, the opportunity that is always there.



In the July/August 2014 issue of Inc. Jason Fred, co-founder of Basecamp, a Chicago-based software company, writes that the real challenge in business isn’t getting started, it’s staying in business, and he has launched a new website (thedistance.com) to share the stories of private companies that have been in business at least 25 years, on the theory that there are lessons to be learned from them.



This year, SullivanPerkins is celebrating another birthday, our 30th since our inception as a design studio in 1984. In 2014, we are more likely to call ourselves an advertising agency, a branding consultancy, or a marketing firm, though we are still fundamentally in the same business.



In an earlier era of social change, the slogan “never trust anyone over 30” was a part of popular culture. The Who’s Pete Townshend, who wrote the “Hope I die before I get old” lyric in “My Generation” is very much alive in 2014 and approaching 70. By comparison, SullivanPerkins is still just a kid, though we get a lot of satisfaction from being over thirty.