Anyone who has ever started a business will tell you how hard it is. First you have to create a viable product or service and prove there’s a market willing to purchase. The next step is to scale your business and make decisions critical to the future of your company.
When I founded my etiquette business 16 years ago, I did not have a road map, much less a business plan. It took almost five years before I started to see a profit. In the meantime, I made a lot of mistakes. I also learned a tremendous amount about myself and about the business of running a successful business.
Mistakes are common; in fact they’re inevitable. They also can make you a more cautious and wiser businessperson. Many wrong decisions can be quickly fixed while others may cost you precious time and money. As my grandmother used to say, “The best sense is bought sense, as long as you don’t pay too dearly for it.”
These tips will help you avoid the six most common mistakes entrepreneurs make while starting and growing a business.
1. Prevent analysis paralysis. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from trusted mentors and friends. Feedback is incredibly valuable to new businesses — especially when it comes from an experienced business owner who has built a business within your market or industry. But beware. Even well intentioned advisors can overwhelm and confuse entrepreneurs. Too much advice can lead to analysis paralysis. Give yourself time to make big decisions, but not so long that you miss an opportunity or never move forward. You can correct a mistake, but you can’t succeed if you never get started.
2. Ask the customer or client. Feedback, especially in the beginning, gives you the opportunity to fine tune your product or service. Sometimes what you may think is a great idea may not resonate with your key market. If you ask a customer or client what he or she wants and you adapt to provide it, you’re almost guaranteed to receive a positive response. In my case, I frequently invite my clients to help me design their program. This way, they are assured of receiving exactly what they want. Before you launch a new feature, product, service or presentation, test it with a small group of customers or clients first.
3. Take advantage of every opportunity to network. It’s not just who you know, it’s who knows you. Your calendar may be booked from sunrise to sunset, but even 30 minutes at a networking event will pay off in the long run. Visibility is the first rule of networking. When I started my business, I joined an array of civic and business associations in my area. I needed to grow my list of corporate contacts. It was uncomfortable at first, but many people I met have generously referred business to me over the years. In order to promote your business, it’s essential to see and be seen.
4. Avoid distractions and stay focused. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you have more ideas than you’ll ever be able to execute. Don’t fall into the trap of getting a brilliant idea and chasing it down only to find you’ve neglected your core business. Instead, keep an idea journal or folder. I write my long and short term goals on a dry erase board on my wall so I can look at them daily. Periodically go through your list and evaluate which ideas should be executed right away and which can be saved for later.
5. Hire the right people and let the wrong ones go. Decisions about who to hire and which positions to fill are some of the most difficult — and deserve the most time for consideration. Unless someone is absolutely the best person for the job, think twice about hiring close friends and family. Many personal relationships can be deeply challenged or destroyed by difficult work situations. Ensure every new employee is qualified, capable, eager to learn, and has a strong work ethic. Consider hiring people whose strengths complement your weaknesses. If staff members are not performing to your expectations, get them some training or replace them.
6. Respond promptly and keep your word. Unless you’re on vacation, it’s best to respond to every voicemail and email within 24 to 48 hours. Even if you’re unable to take action on a request within that timeframe, respond and let the person know you received their message. If you happen to miss a deadline or forget to return a phone call, apologize immediately. When you make a promise to a customer, client or colleague, keep your word. Do everything you can to ensure you maintain a reputation as a responsible and reliable entrepreneur.