Startup mistakes, although common, is avoidable.
So you have decided to start a business. You have an idea. Let’s say you want to be a carpenter. You print some brochures, some business cards, and take out an ad in your local community newspaper. You pay R15,000 for a website and a domain name that tells everyone about your amazing credentials and experience. You distribute your fliers at a local grocery store. And then you wait. And wait. And wait…
Nothing happens. But, that’s what everyone starting a business does, isn’t it? Print out some brochures, tell everyone how great you are, and wait for the money to roll in. Stop right there. You have just made several of the top 10 startup mistakes entrepreneurs make when starting a business.
Startup Mistake # 1
First, being a “carpenter” is too general. There are thousands of carpenters in the world, but the only successful ones have a niche they concentrate on. Wood carving, house renovation, specialised pieces. Like the old saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Focus on your niche. What makes you unique from all the other startups?
Startup Mistake # 2
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. An idea is not a business plan, or a marketing plan, or even a goal. It is simply an idea. Although the planning process may seem long and tedious now, it will benefit you more than you could imagine in the future. For example, when you are seeking funding, when you are joining an association of professionals, when your goals change, when your business changes, or if you take on a partner or investor. Your business plan should guide you, but not constrain you. If something in your plan doesn’t fit just right, change it. Your business plan will never have a final draft. Startup mistakes can be avoided. Avoid falling in the trap of not planning.
Startup Mistake # 3
Brochures and business cards are garbage to startup businesses! You will spend far more producing them than they will produce for you. Ignoring the high cost of printing these materials, and the costs associated in designing them if you aren’t proficient yourself, most startup businesses change too quickly for these materials to be effective for more than a short period, sometimes as little as days. If it costs R4,000 to print these the first time, and R8,000 to design them the first time, imagine how much you will pay if your brochures beat statistics and last two months. If alterations to design cost R2,000 and your business changes every two months, you can expect to spend at least R12,000 that year on changing your brochures and business cards [excluding printing]. Yes, that is Twelve Thousand Rand in lost revenue, over something that is less effective than graffiti. Don’t waste your time, or your money, on brochures and business cards until you can keep your typical sales presentation the same for at least six months. Otherwise, for business startups, these things aren’t worth the trouble.
Startup Mistake # 4
Okay, Online Business Directories. Let’s take a look at one of the many Online Business Directories and see how many other hundreds of carpenters there are. Which ones stand out? Definitely not the tiny ad in the corner. Probably not the one-liner. And as a business startup, that is all you would be able to afford. For the one or two clients per year, this would bring you, it is better to wait until your marketing budget can afford to buy large, extravagant and eye-catching ads.
Startup Mistake # 5
R8,000 for a website and domain name? A website and domain name before a marketing plan? This scenario is already causing headaches for those of you “in the know”. The best idea for a business startup; design your own website for free if you can using one of the many free web tools out there. The second best idea for a business startup, get a friend or relative to design it for free. Third best, pay a minimal fee for the complicated stuff and the rest can be done by yourself and a relative. Only if no one in the world can help you, do you want to hire a professional to do the whole thing for you. If you pay R8,000, it had better be a good website – because your entire marketing budget just paid for it.
Startup Mistake # 6
Wow! A carpenter who went to John Doe Carpentry Academy! Is that what your customers say? Most likely, they won’t even think that. Most customers think, “Wow! Look at his work. It is just what I need.” And that is what you want your customers to think. Don’t promote yourself; promote your solutions. Everyone who comes to your website has a problem they need to be solved. If you figure out that problem and can tell them how to solve it using your website, you have just hit a marketing gold-mine.
Startup Mistake # 7
What is a carpenter doing at a grocery store? And why is he handing out fliers anyway? If you do hand out fliers, do it where it counts. A carpenter should hand out fliers at a lumberyard or furniture store. Even a department store that sells nails would be a better location for a carpenter when handing out fliers. Think about it.
Startup Mistake # 8
You stopped marketing. This is probably one of the biggest startup mistakes for a new business. Even if you do exactly the opposite of everything you have read so far, if you keep doing it you are bound to get at least minimal results. If you stop when you run out of new ideas, you probably won’t get much. The key to marketing is repetition. Make sure people think of your name when they have a problem. If they have only seen your name once, but your competitor just sent them a third flier, your competitor will get their business. We’ve all heard that it takes more than once for a customer to buy, and it has never been more true. With the information available to your customers today, you want your name to be in front of them as much as possible.
Startup Mistake # 9
When nothing happened, you didn’t try again. Nothing says failure like someone who quits. Motivate yourself! Get up in the morning and say “I’m going to get hits to my website.” Or “I’m going to get a client this week!” If you build it, but nobody knows it’s there, nobody is going to come. When you’re starting a business, you have to try, make mistakes, learn, and try again. If you try, make a mistake, and give up, you will never be the success you know you can be.
Startup Mistake # 10
You assumed that what everyone else does will work for you. Wrong! What everyone else does take them a long time to figure out, and they have been tweaking it all that time to make it work right for them. If you copy part, but not all, of what they do, you will never get the same results. People strive for individuality, and businesses should too. If you copy your competitor in every aspect, your prospects might as well flip a coin. Do you want 50 per cent of the business you could be getting? No, you want it all!
The bottom line with a business startup is to stay motivated. Starting a business is one of the hardest things anyone can ever do because of the uncertainty, the lack of a support structure and the complete and total disregard of your typical safety zone. It is all part of starting a business. But the rewards are far greater than the sacrifices. And in the end, when you are financially secure and independent from the corporate world, it will be more gratifying than you could have ever dreamed. Don’t ignore the startup mistakes. And if you make a mistake, learn from it, and move on!