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11 common start-up mistakes and how to avoid them

By Jock Fairweather 14 Apr 2019
Work team has discussion around table at work.


Starting your own business can feel like a huge risk.

To help you avoid wasting time, energy and money on a start-up project that doesn’t end up going anywhere, there are a few things you need to consider. Learn from these common mistakes that entrepreneurs and small businesses make when they first start out, so you don’t make them too.

11 common start-up mistakes to avoid

1. Not understanding your ‘why’

Do you want to make an impact on people? Do you want to make money? Do you want to be famous? Whatever the reason you want to start a business, it’s important to know why you want to do what you want to do, as this will help you maintain focus and motivation when times get tough. Understanding your why will also help to make sure every decision you make is in line with your business’ core purpose, goals and values.

2. Trying to be everything to everyone

It’s impossible to be everything to everyone, and expensive to try and do so when you first start out. It’s much easier to start small and then expand. For this reason, try to find a niche area where there is significant demand for a product or service, but little (or no) competition. Work out what exactly your potential customers need, create it for them and then, once revenue starts coming in, you can build out and scale from there.

3. Being afraid to back yourself

Any time you want to reach out to others to help promote your product, collaborate on a project, or ask for help, don’t be afraid to back yourself. The worst anyone can say is ‘no’. If they do, don’t give up, just ask why, and whether there is anything you can do to turn that no into a yes. Be persistent and prepared to learn from the ‘no’s’.

4. Thinking you know it all and not being open to feedback

No one knows it all. When you’re starting out, don’t assume you know what people want—do your research and base your decisions on industry insights. As an entrepreneurial newbie, it’s also important to surround yourself with people who you can ask questions. Hire people who are experts at things that are your weaknesses, or find mentors who can provide you with advice and tips that will help you succeed.

5. Over-estimating revenue forecasts and under-budgeting costs

When starting a business, expect for there to be unexpected costs. I recommend underestimating your revenue forecast by 30% and overestimating costs by 30% to help cover yourself in case of any unexpected financial emergencies.

6. Communicating while in a bad mood

Because there’s a lot of pressure to succeed and a lot of work to do to get your new business off the ground, you may often find yourself feeling stressed. One rule to remember to save you from making a mistake you may regret later is to never communicate when you’re in a bad mood. Email and text are forever.

7. Not being consistent or transparent

Do what you say you’re going to do and if you make a mistake, don’t try to hide it. In today’s world, where almost everything is online, people will find out if you try to cover up a mistake, and you will lose credibility.

8. Lack of patience

Having a lack of patience is one of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs and new business owners make, because they expect that they will be the next best thing within 6 months of starting. It takes all major companies at least 5 years to do anything substantial, so you need to be able to at least commit to this before you start seeing real growth. Hang in there!

9. Hiring too quickly

Starting a business can be overwhelming, but don’t make the mistake of hiring just anyone to take the workload off your hands. Take your time to find the people who fit your culture and who understand your vision and your way of working. It’s better to hire an expert part-time than someone who doesn’t fit your vision, because this could end up costing you more in the long run.

10. Selling out

If you decide to opt out of your business and sell out, not only will you lose the ability to make decisions for your company, you’ll lose the opportunity to learn valuable lessons that will help you be more successful next time. If you believe you know what’s right for the company, and want to continue being the key decision maker, never sell out more than 51%.

11. No focus on personal life

It’s easy to lose focus on your personal life when starting a business, as you will likely be overwhelmed by everything you have to do. But if you stop going to the gym, hanging out with friends or paying attention to your partner, these things can have a really big effect on your mental health and the way you think and make decisions. It’s important to look after yourself at all times, so prioritise finding a balance and managing your time effectively in order to prevent the degradation of your mental health.

The world needs creatives and the world needs doers, but most of all, the world needs creative doers. If you’re passionate about your idea and avoid making the mistakes mentioned in this blog, you are one step closer to finding entrepreneurial success.

For more expert advice on starting a business from someone who has done so successfully, check out the recording of Jock’s free, one-hour webinar or visit the entrepreneurship and freelancing section of this website.

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