We’ve all heard those statistics about how many businesses fail in their first year (and yet we secretly hope that we’ll be one of the exceptions). There are plenty of challenges and pitfalls – but a lot of them can be avoided.
Here are 5 mistakes to avoid when starting your own business:
1. Getting locked into analysis paralysis
There is a lot of thinking that goes into starting a business – there are fears around failure and concerns around money, questions around how to even begin to get it off the ground, strategies and planning around the best business model, ideal client, pricing strategy… The danger here is that you get so caught up in the theory of it all, always searching for the ‘right answer’, the perfect plan, that you just keep procrastinating and nothing really gets done. You create all sorts of documents and to-do lists – but you never turn them into reality.
I should say here that I am a big fan of strategy, I absolutely love creating visions and action plans and I think they’re a crucial tool in building a business and living your life. However, there’s only so much strategizing and planning that you can do from behind your desk. You won’t be able to decide on the best client or customer target, the best product offering or the best marketing model, without testing it out and learning from what you find. Can you reach that ideal client? Does your message resonate? Are they interested in buying from you?
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In any case, there is no ‘right answer’ and so putting off taking action until you’ve found it means putting on the brakes on the business and preventing any kind of progress.
2. Focusing internally vs externally
There’s a wave of enthusiasm that comes in the early days of setting up a business as you get excited about briefing a logo design, printing up business cards and designing a fancy website. You spend days on tweaking the copy, drafting and re-drafting blog posts or book chapters… and you want it all to look incredibly professional from day one. All of this work, however, is internal: it’s you sitting at home with your laptop, working on things that people will never even see unless you shift your focus and start looking outwards.
Now, branding is very important – my whole background is in brand building and it’s something I teach as part of my programmes! – but there is such a thing as “done is better than perfect”. One of the great things about the internet is that you can very easily tweak things as you go. In fact, as important as I believe a website to be for a business, you actually don’t need one to get started. The most powerful thing you can do at the start is to get out there in the real world, talk to people, ask questions, see what resonates with them, and offer solutions that address their problems. You can take their business card and be the one who gets in touch with them; you can direct them to your LinkedIn page; you can use your own name if you haven’t yet come up with a catchy brand name and tagline.
Get out there and have those conversations, and worry less about all that navel gazing at the expense of what’s really going to move you forward.
3. Taking sporadic action
There are a lot of things you need to do when you’re first setting up a business, and there is a lot of information out there telling you to do even more. There are different social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) and different media (video, audio, blogging); there are different target audiences that you might be able to help and different products and services you might want to offer. It’s easy to get distracted and move on to the next shiny thing when you’re not seeing immediate results. Most people are simply giving up too soon – and then the business inevitably fails.
Any marketing strategy or tactic takes time to see real results and brand and business building is a long-term effort. Not only that but consistency helps to build trust among your audience and a coherent message as to what you stand for. To reap the rewards of your efforts, you need to be taking consistent action: every day, every week, every month, every year! This means not waiting for motivation to strike to write a blog post but to commit to a schedule and stick to it – for example, every Tuesday, you publish a post. It means working out how many people you need to reach out to, or proposals you need to make, in order to get the number of clients or projects that you need. It means writing a little bit on that book you want to publish, every day; recording your podcast episodes on a regular timetable; and also sticking to a routine of exercise and healthy eating to make your whole business and lifestyle sustainable.
4. Undervaluing your services
This is such a big one and it’s a natural consequence of having been in a corporate job for many years. As an employee, you’re given a salary based on your qualifications and experience. Although there may be some scope for negotiation, many of us lack the confidence to push for more. In any case, there is a ceiling, defined by what your employer has decided that you are worth. (In fact, a company will always by definition pay you less than you are worth, or else they wouldn’t be making any money!)
Part of it is also tied up with limiting beliefs, for example:
- “Rich people are selfish.”
- “People will think I’m greedy if I ask for more.”
- “Who do I think I am?”
Selling yourself can feel pretty ‘icky’.
But the truth is that you have to earn money in order to run a business! First, because earning money means that people are paying you, which means that they are getting value from what you do. Second, because you won’t survive as an entrepreneur, and your business will fail, if you can’t earn a living! What’s the worst thing that can happen – they say “no” and you find someone else who will pay (or, if no one will pay, you lower your rates a little)? Or they say “yes” and you earn “too much”? I’m sure you can find a worthy cause to donate the excess to if that’s a concern.
5. Going it alone
There’s a belief that many of us have that we need to do things by ourselves, and we’re perfectly capable, thank you very much. So we struggle on, muddling through, trying to learn everything, do everything… and getting lost and overwhelmed in the process. But why on earth would you think that you can build a new business – something that you’ve never done before – without getting any kind of support?
There are a number of different support roles that are absolutely critical to succeeding in your business and as an entrepreneur:
- The cheerleader – You need someone who believes in you, who’ll encourage you when you’re doubting yourself and who’ll celebrate with you as you move forward.
- The accountability partner – The best accountability comes from within, but having someone check in on your commitments does wonders for doing what you said you’d do!
- The mentor – Someone who’s a few steps ahead of you in the game can advise you on common mistakes and pitfalls and guide you on where to focus your efforts.
If you’re lucky, you can find these support roles in your friendship group – but often it will be necessary to look a bit further afield, especially to get someone a bit more objective.
There are plenty of online and offline communities that you can join so that you meet like-minded people who will cheer you on (my Facebook group is a good place to start!). There are also many online courses that you can work through by yourself to address certain skills gaps, and some online programmes will match you up with another participant so that you have an accountability partner.
For mentors, you can begin by finding role models who are ahead of you in the kind of area where you want to make progress, and start with content like YouTube and Facebook live videos, blog posts and other free resources. Then, when you’ve found someone who resonates with you and you’re ready to invest, you can get an experienced coach and mentor who can combine all of these roles into one, cheering you on, holding you accountable, and guiding you through the process.
If you’d like to discuss how I can help you with getting your business off the ground and bringing in a regular income, then go ahead and book a free consultation call >>