As people are trying to navigate away from the “corporate jungle” towards the land of supposed “entrepreneurial utopia,” a lot of misconceptions arise. Perhaps this has to do with the media, advice they have received or what is heard through the grapevine but often these insights can derail a person from taking the plunge in the startup world. Or cause them to jump on the entrepreneurial bandwagon, when they have no business doing so.
Here are the five main myths I have learned about entrepreneurship.
1. If my product or service is good, I’ll be successful. Not necessarily.
For me, this has been a perplexing (and frustrating) enigma in many ways. As someone starting a corporate-training business in 2003, I knew I was great at what I did. I made the erroneous assumption that if I was a great trainer with great content, I’d similarly be rewarded in the marketplace with plenty of work and clients. My first few years as a corporate trainer disproved this myth and humbled me at the same time. Yes, I got tons of feedback that my workshops were amazing, and I was a wonderful instructor but that did not automatically translate into new clients and more work. Here are a few reasons:
- Providing a great service or product and figuring out how to market it are different animals. I proved to be a great trainer and less than mediocre marketer for sure.
- Relationships and connections can make a huge difference particularly early on when you haven’t built a brand yet and need someone to give you a break. (Unfortunately, my connections were few and far between.)
- It’s easy to overestimate the demand for your services. When I estimated potential revenue, I tended to focus on how strong my training was and tended to neglect pesky details like the pending surge of online training (i.e. emerging competitors and shifts in your industry), lack of access to decision makers and economic downturns that might impact client ability to pay.
2. Entrepreneurship will give me back complete control over my schedule. Well, yes and no. While founders may not have to punch a time clock, they often slave away the first few years -- logging hours that easily surpass those from their “corporate jungle” days.
Yes, many who dove into entrepreneurship are passionate about their mission and love what they do, so working long hours may be fine for them. But just beware of the myth that entrepreneurs don’t have a tight, even strict schedule to make and maintain a successful business. That just isn't the case.
While it’s true entrepreneurs don’t have a “boss” in the traditional sense, they are still being held accountable every day -- whether it’s to clients, potential clients, partners or other stakeholders.
While I have garnered the ability to have much more control over my schedule in recent years, I still typically schedule key meetings and events around my clients’ availability.
3. Never give away your product or service: It’ll dilute your brand. Not always true. Early on in an entrepreneurial venture there may indeed be strategic opportunities for providing product or service pro bono. Sometimes, the value of getting in front of your target audience to showcase your abilities or products can outweigh the opportunity cost of the missed revenue. (There’s a reason why major consumer product companies use sampling as a marketing strategy -- it works!) That said, any time you’re providing a product or service for free or at cost, you must be careful not to have an overall deleterious impact to your bottom line.
My advice is provide them a customized version that truly is a “sample,” so that potential clients don’t devalue your service. For instance, if you’re a massage therapist offer a 15 minute sample session or if you’re an executive coach, offer an initial free assessment. If you do go down this sample route, be sure it’s an opportunity for people to get a true sense of what they’d be purchasing when they become a paying customer.
4. Early on, I need to do it all myself. Maybe, maybe not. If you’re starting with limited capital you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and wear many hats. However, it often becomes more cost-time effective to outsource key functions in areas you aren't an expert in, the function is critical to your business’ success and/or the costs to outsource are minimal. For example, if you know that your business needs a sophisticated website, it’s risky to anoint yourself your own IT director if you can’t spell java much less use it. If you wouldn’t hire you to do the work, you should probably hire someone else. Focus your energy in areas where you have particular expertise and require your personal attention (i.e. defining your offerings and building relationships with clients).
5. The more clients, the better. Not really. Again, early on it’s tempting to take on any client that shows interest but spreading yourself too thin can be risky. I’ve seen young entrepreneurs twist themselves into a pretzel trying to offer different services to different clients, as they try to appease everyone and capture as much potential business as possible. The danger is that when don’t clearly define your products or services, you can lose focus and confuse the marketplace on your areas of expertise.
Also, let’s face it: All clients aren’t good ones. Some are extremely high maintenance, unrealistic, unreliable or price hagglers. You definitely want to be selective enough to weed out clients that may become more of a problem than they’re worth.
Another mistake entrepreneurs make is taking on too many clients too soon. By trying to jungle too many responsibilites, you could end up decreasing your credibility, quality and overall brand, which could have longer-term consequences.