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Kick the Habits

The 5 worst habits of startup entrepreneurs--and how to give 'em the boot for good

This is what you've always wanted. You're the boss now-and no one is telling you when to wake up, when to start work or even what work you should do for the day. Ahhhh, what a blessing! Right?

It is if you've cultivated the right habits. Otherwise, working for yourself can actually be a curse. Are you at risk? The following are the five worst habits that typically trip up new entrepreneurs-and what you can do to overcome them:

1. Bad habit: Selling yourself short.
Remedy: Fight insecurity with knowledge. When you worked for someone else, you had no qualms about expecting top dollar for your position. Why, then, would you ever get squeamish about pricing your products or services?

What typically happens to new entrepreneurs is that they're tempted to lowball their prices in hopes of avoiding rejection. But when you take on a project, say, for $500, and the market indicates it should be $1,500, you create two problems for yourself: 1) You risk actually losing money on the deal, and 2) you diminish the perceived value of your offering. Prospects may get scared off, thinking, "Is he desperate for business-and if he's that desperate, how could he really be that good?"

To avoid underselling yourself, find out exactly what you're worth. Research your industry. Log on to your competitors' Web sites. How much are they charging? If you're creating what you believe to be a whole new industry, conduct focus groups to discover a satisfactory pricing point for your product or service. When you fight insecurity with facts and knowledge, you embolden yourself to ask for what you deserve.

2. Bad habit: Underestimating your time.
Remedy: Double your estimate. You're consistently missing project deadlines or failing to follow through on promises to clients, employees or vendors. You feel overwhelmed and overworked, but it seems you have little to show for your efforts.

Here's what you can do. If you have a track record performing particular tasks, use that experience as a guide to estimate how much time you need. Otherwise, as a general rule of thumb, estimate the maximum amount of time you'd think the task would take, and then double that number. This way, you build in extra time to handle unexpected crises.

3. Bad habit: Underestimating financial requirements.
Remedy: Find accountability. While optimism is a must-have trait for entrepreneurs, it doesn't serve you well when projecting financial requirements. The best-case scenario rarely happens. Surprise expenses, late payments from clients and lower-than-anticipated sales can all kill your dream if you don't account for them in your projections.

To keep yourself-and your numbers-in check, find someone with whom you can be accountable, perhaps a CPA, mentor or business partner. When you balance your optimism with sober thinking, you ensure you'll have the means to keep yourself in business for the long haul.

4. Bad habit: Being stubborn to a fault.
Remedy: Be genuinely open to criticism and new ideas. Like optimism, stubbornness can be an asset in the proper context. As you endure naysayers, critics and rude prospects, your dogged persistence keeps you from giving up prematurely.

The problem arises when you're too stubborn to listen to people when you should. Suppose, for example, one of your partners tells you the business model you've designed just won't work with current market conditions. The natural response would be to defend your "baby," but what if he or she is right? Welcome criticism by asking yourself, "What new ideas can I glean from what this person is saying?" You may find that even your harshest critics can give you sound feedback.

5. Bad habit: Talking yourself out of stuff.
Remedy: Be tougher on yourself than any boss could ever be. Now that you're on your own, it's easy to talk yourself out of, say, going to an early-morning networking event because you "need the rest." You'll discover that when you first start a business, your toughest battle won't be with your prospects, customers or even critics, but with yourself.

Therefore, think of yourself as being more demanding than the toughest boss you've ever had. Imagine delegating your to-do list to an employee. What would you expect? Would you allow him to sleep in, put off sales calls or delay a project? Then why cut yourself that slack? You're the boss-so take control and be the boss!

is the principal and senior writer of The Professional Writing Firm Inc., a Kennesaw, Georgia, company that specializes in ghostwriting articles. Lyden writes frequently on motivation, management and marketing issues.

Sean Lyden is the CEO of Prestige Positioning (a service of The Professional Writing Firm Inc.), an Atlanta-based firm that "positions" clients as leading experts in their field-through ghost-written articles and books for publication. Clients include Morgan Stanley, IFG Securities, SunTrust Service Corp. and several professional advisory and management consulting firms nationwide.

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This One Habit Can Help Make You Smarter

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