8 Huge Mistakes Most Entrepreneurs Don't Realize They're Making Almost all errors are unconscious until circumstances bring them to light -- often through harsh consequences. Looking these missteps over now, ahead of time, will seem in the future like the height of wisdom.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Would you rather hustle 24/seven or slave nine-to-five? An entrepreneur always chooses the former. But hustling harder doesn't mean hustling smarter. In fact, many entrepreneurs make dumb mistakes. In fact, they make the biggest mistakes without even realizing it. Are you making any of them? Let's find out.
Mistake 1: Solving problems that don't exist.
Solving the wrong problem can derail any business no matter how smart the founders are. It's like the "TV Hat" in the cartoon below. Does it solve a problem? Maybe. But will people care enough to buy it? No way.
Most founders start with an "idea." Instead, they should start with a real problem. By solving that, they can create a sustainable business.
Mistake 2: Growing too fast.
If your startup sees initial success, it's tempting to expand right away. You might want to move to a bigger store. Hire a bigger staff. Invest more in marketing. But there's a difference between scaling quickly and scaling intelligently.
Premature scaling leaves you unable to meet customer demand. You'll face overhead expenses you can't afford to pay. One report found that premature scaling causes 74 percent of tech startup failures. Don't try to force growth now. Instead, strengthen your company's foundations so you can grow smarter later.
Mistake 3: Skimping on marketing.
While some entrepreneurs scale too fast, others think scaling will happen for them. They assume customers will discover their business through word of mouth alone. In reality, you'll always need marketing. Even the best product idea will fail without some marketing behind it.
Marketing is how you differentiate yourself from the competition. Do your research to find what will best reach your target audience. Use multiple marketing methods, like SEO, PPC and content marketing. While you shouldn't stretch your finances too thin, you can't afford not to make this investment.
Mistake 4: Treating employees like a huge company would.
You can't just hire the right people. You also have to treat them well. You have to make it so they'll stay for the long haul. Studies have found that employee turnover can cost up to two times an employee's salary.
High turnover is a company killer. To avoid this, you have to provide employees with opportunities to grow, lead and make real impact.
Mistake 5: Having a presentation instead of a prototype.
Words are cheap. Too many entrepreneurs focus on making flashy Powerpoint decks and business plans that rarely pan out. Instead, it's much more powerful to have a demo or prototype that you can show. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough for investors and customers to understand your vision.
Related: Are You Ready for Your Prototype?
"A great idea is one thing. Making it a reality is another," says venture capitalist John Rampton. "I personally need to see some sort of working prototype." Entrepreneurs must prove that people will pay for the idea, and not just nod their head when they hear about it.
Mistake 6: Being cheap beyond reason.
Too many entrepreneurs burn the candle at both ends: they work hard while being too hard on themselves. You don't have to pinch pennies every chance you get. Sometimes, there can be unseen benefits to paying for better desk chairs, easier-to-use software or treating you and your team to a day out.
Mistake 7: Taking 'no' for an answer.
Great entrepreneurs realize that a no actually means "not yet" in many scenarios. They break through walls where others get blocked. While bad entrepreneurs may take a no as a sign that they need to give up, great entrepreneurs recognize it as valuable feedback.
Getting a no from an investor doesn't mean you'll never get funding. Instead, it's a sign that you may need to rethink your value proposition. Similarly, a no from a target customer means you have to do more to differentiate your product. Using this feedback to refine and improve your product or service will help you build your way toward success.
Mistake 8: Treating your business plan as the Holy Grail.
If your business plan was a book, it would be categorized as realistic fiction. Could it happen? Sure. But will it happen exactly as you described? Not likely. The worst entrepreneurs approach business plans as a step-by-step map to success. But great entrepreneurs realize that these plans are merely the guard rails. They may inform future decision making, but they shouldn't dictate it.
You need to learn to be flexible with your business plans. Things won't always go as planned. As previously mentioned, you might get rejected by an investor or customer. New technology could disrupt your industry.
Companies like Blockbuster and Kodak are obsolete because they weren't willing to change. Don't make the same mistakes they did. Throw out your pride and become a constant learner so you can adapt when needed.
Related: Can We Stop Pivoting Already?
Avoiding these mistakes isn't always easy. You might get excited about a bad idea. You might need to change certain habits. But mistakes don't have to define you. You can learn from them. More importantly, you can identify where you went wrong and avoid making the same mistakes in the future. As you learn to hustle smarter, your hard work will pay off, and you'll be able to achieve your entrepreneurial dreams.
Keep your head up. Keep grinding. You've got this.