Starting a business for the first time can be scary, stressful, and all other terrifying adjectives.
Even with all the right “things” in place – supportive team, business education, adequate financing, etc. – first time entrepreneurs can be swept away with the hundreds and hundreds of critical decisions that rewired within those first few months.
As with any new venture, entrepreneurship is trial and error – sometimes you make good decisions, other times, those decisions prove to not be so good.
Reflecting over my years of serial entrepreneurship – some which were profitable, others not so much – I’m reminded of some major mistakes I made my first year in business. It’s my hope that by sharing these new entrepreneur “oops!” you can be saved some unnecessary headache as you chart your own entrepreneurial journey.
I thought I could do it all alone.
I’ve always tended to be somewhat of a loner, but the structure of organizations always provided me with a mandatory team of coworkers and colleagues, which I probably resented at some point during my career, but benefited greatly from. Starting my own business, my lone wolf tactics went into full (negative) effect. I no longer had team mates to collaborate with or an even a structured department to consult when encountering big problems – it was just me.
Naïve, I thought I could do it all – launch and manage a successful company – alone. Not only did I think that I could (which I was later proved to be greatly mistaken), but I thought I should, citing my misinformed perceptions of successful, self-made entrepreneurs. Boy, was I wrong. It takes a team of people to run a business, or at the very least, to support an entrepreneur. Trying to go about everything “all by yourself” is a recipe for entrepreneurial disaster.
Lesson #1: Reach out to others, build your team, and work together to turn your business idea into a success.
I took on way too much, too fast.
Overly inspired by some pump-you-up, get rich quick, business guru’s speech, I dove head first into the world of entrepreneurship, championing a fight song that went something like “No pain, no gain! Big risk, big rewards!” and a lot of other misguided “go for it all with no consideration of the consequence” attitudes.
I took on way too much, way too fast, with “go big or go home” as my near-dying mantra. Instead of slowly scaling my company in a way that was conducive to innovation and stabilized modification, I was swinging big with every pitch the business world threw me.
End result: I was exhausted, totally spent, and had very little to show for my big leaps – sure, my successes had been big, but so had my losses. It was no way to manage a career, much less a business.
Lesson #2: Don’t take on too much, too fast. Scale your business sensibly.
I burned too many bridges.
Starting my own business, I really neglected the whole “need other people” concept, and put very little stock in preserving professional relationships. I used other professionals for sales leads, and would simply leave them in the dust. I lashed out at industry vendors after one or two product mishaps, never considering that our paths may cross again. Even with bad clients and my then-competitors, I reacted in a way that left no hope of future collaboration. Basically, I burned a lot of bridges that just didn’t need to be crossed again.
It’s a small world, and industry circles are even smaller. While no one is expected to get along with everyone, there’s a big difference from burning bridges and cordially parting ways. Sure, there are definitely some unscrupulous individuals in the business world that need their bridges burned, but most people – even that aggravating client that’s always late to pay – deserve an amicable send off.
Lesson #3: Don’t burn any bridge that you don’t have to and make friends when you can.
I didn’t wait for the market to speak.
My first flopped business was a in the cutthroat world of retail. Anyone that has invested in retail can attest to its many frustrating aspects – add the fast paced world of ecommerce in there, and you’ve got your hands full. Starting out, my first priority was to have a fully stocked store (Big Mistake #1), so I took all my money and stocked the store. Sounds great, right? Wrong. Nothing (and I mean nothing) sold. There I was, surrounded by my carefully selected, super- fab inventory that apparently no one wanted.
When starting a business, it’s better to ease into things – like new product lines – testing the market as you go vs. going in lock, stock, and barrel. In today’s world, we’ve got TON of ways to test the market before committing all our resources – crowdfunding, dropship, presales, online orders (that can be canceled), etc. Experienced entrepreneurs take an inspiring business idea, and test it, allowing the market to provide some feedback before going whole hog.
Lesson #4: Don’t fall in love with your “brilliant business idea” – test the market and see if it takes.
I totally neglected networking.
As a young entrepreneur, I initially thought the only people that mattered were either people involved in delivering my product, or people interested in buying my product. With such tunnel vision focus, I completely forgot to acknowledge the presence of other potential supporters, and totally neglecting this critical career component we call “networking”. Couple months into my business, I was in dire need to strategic contacts, but none were to be found.
Always striving to learn from my mistakes (the light bulb was conceived after 10,000 attempts, right?), I made a commitment to my career to consistently prioritize networking. While such a strategy may vary from individual to individual, for me, it involved dedicating two hours a week to network with other professionals – be it coffee dates or networking events – and attending a minimum of four to six conferences annually.
Lesson #5: Prioritize networking throughout your career – especially, when you’re starting a new business.