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I found a fascinating website while trolling around the Internet recently. It’s called Statistic Brain and it has data and rankings on all kinds of topics, from hair loss to consumer spending.

The numbers that caught my eye had to do with start-up business failures. Did you know 25 percent of start-ups strike out within the first year? Thirty-six percent go down in the second, and 44 percent in the third. Nearly three-quarters of businesses that start in one year will be shuttered 10 years later.

Why? “Incompetence” is the No. 1 reason, according to Statistic Brain. The website even cites specific pitfalls, including “living too high for the business,” “lack of planning” and – this one’s a doozy – “non-payment of taxes.”

All those numbers made me want to pat myself on the back. My company is in its 23rd year, which sounds ancient by Statistic Brain’s standards. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing; there was one terrifying year in the wake of 9/11 that we very nearly went belly-up. But I changed course, pulled out of the storm, and emerged much wiser.

Reading the alarming stats on Statistic Brain made me think about what I’ve learned in my two-plus decades of starting and growing a small business. Much of what I know now came from painful experience; something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. So, in the hope of preventing others from learning the hard way, I thought I’d share some of the lessons that have proved most valuable to me.

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