You’ve got a fantastic idea, a whole heap of energy and ambition and a driving desire to launch and run your own business. You know that setting up your own business is easier and more popular than ever, and before you know it, you’ve taken the plunge!
It’s a brilliant and exciting time, full of potential and dreams and I certainly don’t want to put a damper on things. But, but, but … equally, I don’t want your brilliant idea to become one of those fly by night businesses that closes down in the space of less than a few years.
You’ve got a lot on your plate right now, getting things off the ground, but whatever you do, take a moment and make sure you don’t make one of these 10 very common mistakes.
Mistake 1 – Making assumptions and not doing your research
This is an easy mistake to make and lots of us are guilty of it at some point. You know roughly who you’re targeting. You’re pretty sure there is a demand for your product or service (after all it’s a great idea / product) and so you set up a website and crack on.
The idea of doing or commissioning any research seems unnecessary / expensive / complicated and likely to cause a delay. Perhaps you’re not even sure how to go about your research and either way, you figure you can manage without it.
It is too easy to waste your resources
But research is so important and in a number of different areas and ways. It’s a bit like trying to hit a particular pebble on a beach. If you stand well back and chuck a large bucket of water at your target, a small amount of it may or may not hit the target and an awful lot of water will miss it and just be wasted.
Similarly, if all you know is that you want to hit a particular pebble but you’re not exactly sure which one (i.e. whether it’s large, small, grey, white, speckled etc.), then your chances of hitting that pebble, especially if you’re still using a bucket of water are very, very slim.
Fine tune your business with your research
Research enables you to fine tune your pebble so that you know exactly where it is and what it looks like. Research also enables you to refine your bucket of water – so that rather than just throwing lots of water at the beach, you find your pebble and pour a small amount of water directly on to it.
Research may even lead you to conclude, that chucking water at your pebble is not the best way of collecting it up and nurturing it!
You need to research everything you can
You should research the people you want as clients (your pebbles) so that you know as much as you possibly can about them. You should research your competitors and your market so that you know how to position your brand, and you should research the technical stuff like the keywords you should use on your website.
Give your business a fighting chance
Research is not as complicated or expensive as it used to be, and it need not cause a significant delay to your project. But without it, you will probably waste an awful lot of money and time trying to sell something too vague, to people you haven’t really identified in a way that is all a bit woolly. And that is not a ticket for success!
Mistake 2 – Buying your domain name and hosting too early
Another all too common mistake, is to think of a great idea, followed by a great name, followed by a sense of panic that you have to buy the appropriate domain ASAP while it’s still available! After all, buying domain names is really easy these days and with a few clicks on your phone, you’ve bagged your domain and sorted your hosting. Great!
Have you really thought through the name?
But it isn’t great. First of all, there are all sorts of things you need to take into account before deciding on your domain name. The chances are, it’s a name your website and business is going to be stuck with for a long time!
Does it actually make any sense?
The name itself should be decided as part of your overall branding. It’s got to be meaningful, appropriate, memorable and easy to spell and type. What may be meaningful to you, may not resonate with your target audience.
Murder! She wrote
For example, I happen to know that the collective noun for a group of writers is either “A murder of authors” or “A worship of writers” (and I love them both) but I’m pretty sure that if I set up a website called www.murder.co.uk or www.worship.co.uk it would not attract the people I was after! Equally “www.theeveevent.co.uk” (if my company was called The Eve Event) is problematic because it’s so easy for people to make mistakes when typing it!
You also have to think about whether you want co.uk, .com or something else. This may depend on where your target market is but can also have an impact on the impression you create unconsciously with your domain. And first impressions matter.
The not so perfect host
Finally, you need to understand and evaluate the hosting package you are being offered. Some seem very attractive but then tie you into a three-year deal (or longer) with substantial hikes in the fees each year. Others charge you to leave or in fact own your domain, so you can only use it whilst with that host. And in some instances, your hosting can make the relationship between your website designer and email overly complicated, difficult or inefficient.
Mistake 3 – Underestimating how difficult it is to own a business
Running your own business may have been your dream for a long time and it can offer a great way of life. But success comes with a lot of hard work too. In the early days (when budgets are limited) the chances are you are going to have to become Jack of all trades.
You will be in charge of sales, marketing and PR, admin, accounts, logistics, customer service, production and if what you’re selling is a service, well of course you’ve also actually got to find time to deliver that as well!
… master of none
As you know, each of the above roles is a job in itself and all those roles take a level of “know how” and expertise. That means for marketing purposes you’re going to have to keep on top of trends and digital developments, writing a regular newsletter or blogging as well as getting out to networking events. You’ve got to keep your website up to date, and ensure you’re capturing those all-important leads. Oh, and you do understand the law on data protection, don’t you?
At the same time, you’re packaging products taking calls and trying to file your accounts. Argh! And the list goes on.
Living the dream or surviving a nightmare?
Suddenly, you find you’re working longer hours (evenings and weekends too) just to keep on top of things and all for less money than when you had a regular job. At this stage, it’s easy to find yourself feeling exhausted, demoralised or just drowning under the weight and demand of things to do. Whatever happened to living the dream?
Your business needs someone to be in charge
Every new business owner has been there. So, you have to face the fact that you can’t possibly be skilled at everything whilst also giving everything your full attention.
In fact, you are much more valuable if you are at the helm of your business driving it forward with the passion and vision that inspired you to launch in the first place. Don’t get so bogged down in the day to day stuff that you’re not able to do that.
The trick is to get help with whatever you can, as soon as you can. That might mean taking on a part time employee, it might mean outsourcing, or working in partnership with an agency but identify someone trustworthy and reliable and delegate some tasks to them as soon as you can. You cannot and shouldn’t try to do it all, all the time!
Mistake 4 – Failing to set any goals / the right goals
Most people don’t dispute that goal setting is an immensely powerful technique. It requires reflection, focus and ambition to set appropriate goals that are daunting but achievable. Then it takes focuses, action and sometimes ingenuity to achieve them.
There’s a stack of evidence that establishes you’re more likely to achieve something if you’ve identified a goal and written it down. Goals provide direction and channel brain power towards finding a way. Goals provide motivation.
Please be more specific
But don’t forget that your goals need to be specific and measurable. Exactly what do you want to achieve and when by. How will you know when you’ve achieved it? Quantify it. Time it. That way, it’s possible to plan action steps to reach those goals.
Be ambitious, be bold
Goals are a multi-faceted thing. You may have overall goals and then a set of sub goals that will enable you to meet that overall goal. You will have different goals for different areas of your business. You need to make sure your goals are ambitious enough to push you out of your comfort zone and you need to build in time to regularly review and monitor the progress you’re making.
They think it’s all over… it is now!
Finally, don’t forget that when you or your team achieve a goal, it should be cause for celebration and recognition. You need to take time out to say well done, great job to both yourself and any team members.
So whatever routine or processes you have (and please make sure you do have some), incorporate your goal setting into them, or run the risk of your business drifting.
Mistake 5 – Failing to identify what makes you different
If you’re lucky (very, very lucky), you’ll be the only person in the world (or at least in your town) offering your product or service!
The reality is, you’ve got competition and depending on what you do, you could have quite a lot of it.
Which means it is absolutely essential to identify and communicate what makes you unique and different, what value can you bring to the table that your competitors can’t. Why should customer A pick you as opposed to your competitor?
So many businesses fail to do this (or fail to do it in a meaningful way). And whilst it may not seem fatal at first, in the long run it will have a big impact.
It should be at the very heart of your vision, your pre-launch planning, all your communications and your research and without it, well you’re just another pebble on the beach struggling to attract attention.
Mistake 6 – Failure to identify and implement a successful income stream model
In other words, you’ve got to figure out the best way to make money. What product or service have you got that is quick and easy to produce and will sell like hotcakes? What service may produce a recurring income so that you don’t have to spend time and money constantly finding new clients?
Get it out there
Using techniques such as Minimum Viable Products (MVP) and Lean Marketing help here and if you’re a perfectionist you may have to just sit on your hands for a while.
A MVP is a “product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development.” What that means is that it should be an inexpensive product to produce and therefore involves less risk if it fails. You get it out there, you assess demand, feedback etc. and then and only then, do you start developing something more sophisticated.
But keep it lean
Lean marketing dovetails with the MVP idea in that it’s about testing ideas and the market in the cheapest way possible. Lean marketers focus on the results of small, trial campaigns, learning from those results, and then developing and evolving elements of the campaign.
It’s not all about love
So, although you may have a product or service that you love, and you want to be the main focus of your business, will it bring you repeat and regular income? Can you build on that one core offering to upsell? Do people actually want it? Is it going to take you so long to produce and perfect that you go bust in the trying? Remember, without a consistent and reliable income, you haven’t got a business.
Don’t skimp on this practical side of things in pursuit of the bigger dream.
Mistake 7 – Not having a mentor / being the only voice of reason within your business
Having a mentor or a sounding board may seem like a luxury that you cannot afford in the early days. But there are many important reasons why you should have one as soon as you possibly can.
Er, which way should I go? Left or right?
For a start, there are an awful lot of important decisions to be made in your business and you may or may not have the experience to make the right choice.
A second opinion, from someone you can trust and who is objective and experienced can be crucial at such moments, helping you to guide your business down the right path without the sometimes-skewed perspective that comes with being too bogged down in the detail.
A mentor will also help you to achieve those goals. Remember those? Indeed, they may even help you to set appropriate and challenging goals, which with their encouragement and motivation, you can achieve. A mentor will often also share their own experiences, leading you by way of inspiration as well as example and providing valuable industry insights.
Help! I can’t see, I don’t know!
Without someone independent you can rely on, it can be very easy to become overly involved in the day to day stuff. Goals slip by unachieved, you can’t see the wood for the trees when it comes to important decisions and your business starts to drift.
Under pressure you make the wrong call on something, you rely on your gut rather than standing back and looking at the bigger picture and you get demoralised when things go wrong.
It’s hard to overstate the positive and empowering impact having the right mentor or partner can have. And your personal sanity and business will both benefit enormously from their independent input!
Mistake 8 – Not vetting the people you work with
It always surprises me how trusting we humans are. Some years back, I sat next to a woman at a networking event who said she was a public speaking coach and expert. Having an interest (and a little experience) in that area, I was curious to know more and started asking a few questions: what qualifications did she have, what experience etc.?
As it turned out, and with no sense of shame, she revealed she had none (or very little). No qualifications. Very little experience. Neither were important to her as she believed in her natural talent and her ability to coach.
All good. Or was it?
So, when she stood up to speak, I was expecting a wow factor! And when she was asked for tips, I was expecting pure gold!
Neither materialised. Her presentation was average at best and she didn’t have any good advice for the would-be speakers in the room.
Fake it, ‘til you make it?!
But, to my surprise, that didn’t stop a handful of people signing up for her services. And I watched her progress over the coming weeks as people carried on signing up to an average to poor coaching service. She was very persuasive and convincing and no one but me appeared to check her credentials.
Don’t believe everything you read
What I learnt that day and in the weeks that followed (she did eventually go out of business and re-invent herself as something else) was that it is very easy to set yourself up as an expert regardless of whether you have any experience, qualifications or even skill.
Often this is done out of genuine self-belief or just good old ignorance rather than a deliberate intention to deceive. And even more often, us trusting people tend to take others at their word. After all, how often have you asked your doctor if you can see her professional qualifications? If someone says they are a professional, we have a tendency to believe them without further enquiry.
Do not neglect your due diligence
Doctors are at least regulated but many other business professions or service providers are not. So you must learn to be curious and if necessary, demanding.
Ask to see evidence of their qualifications, experience or accreditations. Ask for testimonials, examples of their work or references. Ask questions about how they work, their values and back story. Search their business online and see what it reveals. Look their company up at Companies House. Make a point of understanding what they do and how they do it.
If you are going to work closely with someone, be it as a partner, a valued agency, an employee or a freelancer, they have got to be the right person. Someone with experience and shared moral values. Someone you can rely on and trust. Someone who can deliver what they promise to the standard they promise.
Do not skimp on the work required to make sure that they can.
Mistake 9 – Not understanding how each element of your business works
It’s not hard to see how mistake number 8 goes hand in hand with mistake number 9. If you’re clueless about how something works, how will you ever know if you or your contractor is performing that task well?
If you’re going to do your own digital marketing, then you need to know how to do it efficiently and effectively. You also need to know how it will dovetail with your sales. You need to understand accounting practices to ensure you’re as tax efficient as possible.
If you’re selling a complicated software package or a piece of farm equipment, you need to know how they work and how they will enhance your client’s life as well as how logistically you are going to get the product to them.
Could you explain that to me again please?
Equally, if you’re going to hire someone to help you, you still need to understand what they will be doing.
You’re not trying to be an armchair professional, but you do need enough insight and knowledge to ensure your working with people that can deliver. Either ensure they explain what they are going to do and how, in a way that you understand and can monitor, or do some research and learning yourself.
Don’t be a fool!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been handed an “SEO report” by a business owner who has been told how impressive it is. After all, it looks quite impressive. Lots of percentages, arrows and graphs. Their “expert” said it was impressive.
And yet if you ask them to explain what it all means and what’s impressive about it, they rarely can do so and have rarely picked up on or asked about glaring inconsistencies for fear of looking stupid!
Mistake 10 – Not protecting yourself with contracts
OK, for some, contracts are not the exciting, sexy side of business. There are those of us that just want to get on: you’ve met a contractor, you got on well, you discussed what you needed and sketched it out on the back of envelope. They got where you were coming from … great … no need for contracts, let’s just get started.
Stop! Contracts are vital. Here’s why:
- In today’s world, communication tends to be fast and furious. Discussions might be held over the phone, on site, by text, over Skype, or by way of a combination of all the above. What that means is that the potential for misunderstanding or misinterpretation is massive. Broken connections, abbreviated text, interruptions, poor memories etc. all take their toll on the clarity and understanding between two people. A contract should clearly record the main terms of what was agreed.
- A contract should also deal with the detail which may be overlooked in conversation: timetables, guarantees, expectations, what ifs, price etc. That means the project should run more smoothly as a result.
- A contract is your protection if something goes wrong. A quick check of the contract is more often than not, all that is needed to resolve a dispute but if the worst happens and it ends up in court, a written and signed contract is very strong evidence in your favour!
Mistake 11!! Don’t forget to enjoy the journey!
Mistake 11? Yes, I know, I said 10 at the beginning but I do like to go that extra mile! Running your own business is fun, rewarding and at times exhilarating. But that can be easy to forget when you’re still pen pushing the books at 5 to 3 in the morning!
Remember to reward yourself, take time out and celebrate your successes. Remember why you started your business in the first place and all the great dreams that you had. Remember you can make a success of this, and don’t forget to enjoy the fact that you’re now living the dream!