My personal mistakes in building & running a business
As you all may know this isn’t my first foray into self employment, I ran a business in a totally different industry prior to taking the leap into this world of mentoring and coaching and I’ll be the first to admit that mistakes were made. And I'll hold my hand up and say that things will still go wrong, as is the process of building and running a business.
One thing I realised as I spoke to others about my personal experiences is that everyone has their own stories and *knocks palm of hand against head* moments but we rarely share these openly unless someone else has shared their less-than-perfect moments beforehand. It's like we need that confirmation that things aren't as glossy and rosy for others as they aren't for us.
So I’m here to share some of the lessons learnt in both my previous and current business and I hope my personal mistakes mean that you may avoid them if the circumstances apply to you!
1. Build it and they will come... won't they?
No, not a baseball field but in my case a shop.
In my first business we, as in myself and my partner, had a website running and had already been present on the events circuit with our mobile bar so it didn't seem too bad an idea to expand our brand a little further by opening up a pop up shop in the run up to Christmas. We knew exactly what we needed to do to furnish it and had all of the stock and display equipment so, heck, why not?
It turns out this was the easy part; once we opened the doors I’m slightly shamed to say that I sat there twiddling my thumbs waiting for customers to roll in because, well why wouldn't they?
It turns out shouting from the roof tops about your new premises, products, shop opening etc is not only a necessity but truly fundamental to making sure you’re seen and heard by as many people as you can. And in return curious eyes and feet will head your way to see what all this shouting is about.
And this also includes building up networks with other businesses in the area and getting yourself out there, leaving leaflets and flyers in as many local places as you can and making sure that you’re the next best thing since sliced bread.
Online marketing can be done so easily from behind your computer screen and there are so many apps and software packages that can help you to design posters etc that you can post on all social media avenues. So I should have utilised them earlier than I did. But better late than never I guess.
Things did get better and we learnt along the way but it turns out just opening the door and beaming at everyone who wanders past the premises just didn't work. But then again has it ever?!
2. Know WHO you’re doing it for
In this case, ourselves. We built up our business because we didn’t want our lives dictated by others and craved freedom and creativity that we felt we could get from building and running our own business.
But we also had to quickly work out who our target customer was, and this helped massively (I cannot empathise this enough) when looking at our marketing efforts.
Knowing who you want to attract and the brand reputation that you want to be known for is crucial, otherwise you lose so much time, effort and money in chasing people who just aren’t interested in what you offer, and following opportunities that just don’t fit with what you do.
Knowing who your target customer is allows you to knock out potential temptations that come your way but don’t fit in with your brand or marketing efforts.
3. Not having a plan
Planning is pretty crucial when starting and building a business as it provides clarity and purpose. A fly by the seat of your pants attitude may work for some but knowing how, when and what you’re working towards really does help to keep you on track.
I had visions in my mind about how I wanted the business to look in 5 years time but omitted the fact that I needed plans and direction in the intervening years in order to achieve that long term goal. Lesson very quickly learnt when I didn’t get anywhere and felt demotivated at times.
I’m not saying stick to this plan so rigidly that you’re worse off and heading in the wrong direction for your business, but knowing your goals for the next 3, 6 and 12 months and how you want to develop will guide you towards building a controlled and intentional business.
4. Trying to be everything to everyone
Niche this, niche that, niche niche niche.
I’m not mocking but know your niche! There was a point when I wasn’t too sure what our niche was and felt like we were just taking on whatever we liked regardless of whether it fit in with our branding or purpose.
What I’ve found is that trying to be everything and anything to all will mean you fall flat on your face at some point. And this will be sooner rather than later as by this point, resources may have been depleted and you're just left feeling fed up and completely demotivated.
So zone in, search for your ‘why’ (your reason(s) for starting your business), pinpoint your goals, identify your target customer and start getting a plan together on how you’ll achieve progress in an intentional and controlled way. Your marketing efforts will be clearer and over time your target/ dream customer will come knocking.
5. Working too much
A big mistake I made was not switching off and allowing my thoughts and actions to be dictated by my business. I only went to events and involved myself in opportunities that were directly related to my business. And whilst this is correct in many ways, what I also found was that it stifled my thoughts and creativity into such a tight corner that I found it difficult to break away again, especially when I started to lose motivation and interest in what we were offering to customers.
I truly believed that busy busy busy = success, and any down time was a wasted opportunity to seek more business related interests, thus building the business. As you are probably more than aware, this is SOO not true.
Oh what a fool I was!! Down time is so crucial to keeping motivation, interest, creativity, personal relationships, social ties and so many other important factor in life going. What do you become if all you can talk about is business? A social bore. And I shamefully admit I may have fallen into this trap without realising.
Don’t become that bore who can only talk about her business; make sure down time is factored into your work-life balance as much as working on your business. Outside interests are fundamental to who you are and building aspects of your own personality and character.
6. What's the trend?
This partly links to point 5 in that being open to what's going on around you does help with reigniting the creative spark in your mind, but don’t try to shoe-horn a trend or new product into your business if it doesn’t fit.
Just because it’s popular and going to be the ‘next best thing this year’ doesn’t mean it’ll be great for your business. Maybe see if you can incorporate elements of this trend into your business if possible without bowing down to ‘experts opinions on what will transform your business into a success (here’s a secret: no- one knows your business goals, ideas and direction better than you unless you’re on a TV programme with Alex Pollizzi *google it!*)
Keep it simple and do not over complicate it.
7. Be realistic... about everything
This links to planning: know your numbers, goals and finances. Having your long term goal in your mind is great but working solidly towards these without any flexibility can be cumbersome when you’re so focussed on how things will be in 5 years time that you neglect the here and now, and what needs to be done now, tomorrow, next week, next month and so forth.
Get to grips with knowing what has to happen as a minimum each month to keep your business going; keep spreadsheets and know where every penny is going. And don’t expect that the lump sum you currently have in your bank will magically multiple each time you look at it without some positive action on your part.
8. Don’t compare
And like a full circle we’re back to where I started this blog post off: you only really know what others' are going through if you openly communicate about your struggles, stresses and failed attempts.
It became so apparent to me that whatever fancy and glossy picture others paint on social media, at events, networking, meet up’s etc just doesn’t show the true reality of what goes on behind the scenes. Think of a duck serenely gliding by on a picturesque river... a lovely sight I'm sure you'd agree. But then consider the frantic paddling that goes on underneath the surface just in order to keep going forward, never mind the pulls of water trying to frag it back or to the side of the river.
Sometime I just felt rotten and wanted to stay at home but had to be present at the shop, events etc and put on a smile my face. I never wanted to admit that I wasn’t totally happy with how things were going but you would have been hard pressed to make me admit that publicly.
But my views on this have changed and I’m frequently noticing this more on the many social media avenues; people are aching to tell others how bloody hard and demoralising it can be to work for yourself and deal with not only the practical side of running a business but also dealing with your own internal demons without the safety net of work colleagues, HR departments, paid sick days and additional support that an employed position may offer.
Comparison can be the death of creativity, motivation and passion so try to distract yourself when you notice it slipping into your mind when you see that carefree lifestyle image posted by that wonderfully successful business owner who seems to have it all. Or do they?
So there you go, a collection of some of the personal mistakes I’ve made in my numerous years of working for myself. I’m not saying I’m totally business savvy but I know that my mistakes, failures and less than perfect moments have provided me with so much knowledge and insight that I’m less likely to make the same mistakes twice, although I am fully aware that there are probably things I'm doing now that I'll not follow through again in the future. Only time will tell.
How about you…. what lessons have you learnt over your time that can be used when building a business?