Lions & Tigers & Bears

A few years back, CNN ran a story about a Pennsylvania woman mauled by a pet bear that she kept in her backyard. When I saw this story, my first thought was “well, that was a headline waiting to happen.” CNN also reported that, in addition to the 350-lb. black bear, the woman kept a Bengal tiger and an African lion. Apparently, she had the necessary permits from the Commonwealth, and “the property routinely passed inspection and had no violations.” Even doing everything right, the poor woman was obviously still at risk. After all, the bear, even in a cage in a Pennsylvania neighborhood, was still a bear.

Of course, almost all small businesses have bears in their backyards, too. Whether it’s a client or customer who persistently fails to pay, or an employee who shows up late, leaves early, and habitually fails to produce, or a vendor that consistently fails to deliver as promised, business owners often accept, and even seem to welcome these rascals. Despite well-honed instincts warning of potential problems, many business owners disregard these instincts, for a variety of reasons, some sound and some not. With proper care and feeding, the delinquent customer, incorrigible employee, or unreliable supplier may, for a while, appear pleasant to have around and a worthwhile addition to the business.

Eventually, though, damage to the business is inevitable. The customer will abandon the business with an enormous receivable, the employee will disappoint a significant client in a critical situation, or the supplier will fail to deliver vital materials.

Bottom Line: Trust your instincts, and remember that the things that threaten your business now will threaten it as long as you welcome them, even if they appear to be under control for a while.

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