When you’re starting a business, there’s no foolproof blueprint to success. What makes one company thrive can make another one fail. Businesses are unique, constantly changing organizations defined by their company culture, the market they operate within, the people who work there, and the product they provide. No two are the same, and so the road to success will always differ slightly from one to the other.
Entrepreneurship is synonymous with learning, with innovating and learning from failure. Most businesses are no overnight success stories. Instead their path goes along these lines: test a product, fail, retest, improve - and repeat. It’s a painful realization that you probably won’t get your product right the first time, but also one that’s essential to your long-term success. Acknowledging that your product isn’t perfect and that one of your ideas didn’t work means you’ll learn from your mistakes and in the process, make something much better than your original idea.
While there isn’t a roadmap to success that will work for every company, there are some common mistakes that can save you a lot of frustration, money and time if you manage to avoid them. Here are our five most important tips to avoid rookie mistakes when starting a business:
Don’t do everything yourself
At the beginning, not only is it necessary for you to do everything yourself, it’s also extremely useful for you to become an expert in all areas of your business. However, as time goes on this approach eventually starts being counterproductive. Wanting to have control of every aspect of your business leads to spreading yourself too thin. It also prevents you from focusing on what you’re best at.
You need to figure out where your energy is best spent, and hire someone else to do the rest. After all, while you’re probably very good at what you do, you’re not the best at everything. You can benefit hugely from the expertise of others. Smart leaders recognize where their weaknesses lie and hire people who are experts in that field to help move the company forward - for example, you may consider investing in a graphic designer, a marketer, or a salesperson.
It’s a win-win situation: you benefit from the talents of your coworkers while simultaneously freeing time up in your hectic schedule to recharge your productivity, recover from burnout, and concentrate on what’s important.
Take responsibility for bad ideas
Every entrepreneur has good ideas and bad ideas. The trick is identifying which is which, and reacting to failure in a constructive way.
When things go wrong, we often try to distance ourselves from the problem: our defense mechanism kicks in, we’re tempted to save face, to deny responsibility, chase our losses, hold on to an idea that’s not working in the hope that it somehow turns around.
While hitting the panic button and going into stressed-out overdrive is often our first reaction, what should follow is that we take a step back, assess the situation calmly, and consider what course of action would be the wisest to fix the situation. A crucial step of the fixing process is to take responsibility for a bad idea. As the leader of a team, acknowledging the mistake and guiding your team in the right direction is the best way to recover.
Leaders can be proud and unwilling to acknowledge mistakes. But an essential part of being a successful entrepreneur is staying open to change and accepting that your plans are not set in stone. Scrapping a bad idea and starting fresh is sometimes what lets you come back with a stronger, smarter approach. And when you face the problem head-on, you have a positive impact on your team: they will be encouraged by seeing that you react to setbacks in a productive, not a negative way.
Choose your team wisely
Having a good team behind you is as important as having a good idea.
One of Kaitlyn Trabucco’s tips is not to go it alone: if you’re starting a business, grab a co-founder who has a similar vision and work ethic. We all need someone who can give us a fresh perspective, support us when we feel like we’ve hit the end of the road, and step in when our brains are fried. And then we reciprocate that support when they’re not at their best.
Just like a co-founder can be a key part of your support system, so is the rest of your team. With people behind you who share common values and trust each other in tough situations, you’ll be able to accomplish much more than you could’ve on your own. So make sure you hire the right people: in other words, ones with the right skills, the right attitude, and who are the right cultural fit.
Don’t wait until you have the perfect product
When you have an awesome idea, it’s natural to want to roll in out only when it’s absolutely perfect: but when you do so, you miss an opportunity to build an audience early on and get constructive feedback from clients. If you spend months, even years perfecting a product without showing the product - even a very basic version - to prospective customers, chances are it won’t be what customers are actually looking for.
You may think you know exactly what your customers want. However, until they see a product and decide for themselves whether they like it or not, you won’t know for sure. Creating a product is a constant cycle of trial and error, of feedback and response. This is why you shouldn’t aim for a perfect product, but for a minimum viable product. Eric Ries defines a minimum viable product as “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
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In other words, make sure you know what your customers want before dedicating all your resources to one product. Be flexible in your development process so that you can take full advantage of the feedback you’re receiving. The product you end up developing will almost always be different from the one you first expected to build - and that’s a good thing. It shows that you’re adaptable, and sensitive to customer needs.
Don’t think your product will sell itself
Many entrepreneurs think their outstanding idea will simply sell itself - and they couldn’t be more wrong.
Establishing a strong online marketing effort is a must in today’s technological age. This means you need someone with the right expertise who is familiar with online trends and resources.
Many entrepreneurs think that they can attract customers for free on social media - but “social media is not free,” says Drew Williams, co-author of Feed the Startup Beast. What he means by that is that marketing your product online takes an incredible amount of time and effort. It can’t be tacked on as an afterthought, but must be a key part of your marketing strategy. Williams says it typically takes six months to a year before you pick up momentum on social media platforms.
To get people talking about your product, be prepared to invest both time and money into marketing it online. It’s not enough to have a great product: you need to share it with the world for others to think it’s great, too.
While the road to success is different for every startup, just remember that mistakes are part of the job. Some you can avoid; others, you can learn from. Success is about learning how to react to failure in the right way, not getting things right the first time around.
What mistakes did you make when you were first starting up? What did you learn from them? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.