When you start a business it's a whirlwind of emotions. You're tired, you're excited and you don't really know what you're doing but you're determined to figure it out. I know personally if I could go back in time with my partner Mike Capson and fix some of our mistakes I surely would. It's been twelve years since we started Informative Computer Solutions, now ICS Creative Agency in a basement apartment and it's only been until recently that I realized if we went into starting our business with a strategy, plan, and goal in mind we could have saved a lot of headaches and even more money.
In our case, we've been very fortunate to work with a lot of businesses whether they are a start-up or an established business, and with this fortune came a lot of conversations I wouldn't normally have.
What did I find? The majority of the businesses all had similar stories and outlooks. Here are a few common business mistakes that you should try and avoid.
Mistake #1: Burn Out
It's a real thing. I'm sure you've heard of it, people used to talk about burning yourself out like it was a badge of honor. I know I did. Working yourself to the point that you have no energy. Most people don't set out to have a business that lasts a year or two, they have the mindset that it's going to be around for a long time. If that's your goal then you should remind yourself that you need to be present for it.
There has been a massive culture shift in the workplace even since when we started ICS twelve years ago. Now employers put their employee's health and wellness at the forefront and if they don't, then they need to. We have always done this at ICS, but that doesn't mean we as owners followed the same playbook.
How to solve it? Set a limit. I'm only going to work 'X' hours this week. Allow yourself to work as hard as you want but remember to allow yourself to rest as much as you need to as well.
Mistake #2: Trying To Do Too Much
When you are starting a business it is really easy to get overwhelmed and feel pulled in multiple directions. Becoming distracted is easy but it is even easier when you're trying to do everything; so it's important to remind yourself early on, you can't do everything.
I can remember focusing too much on what other people in this industry were doing instead of focusing on what we wanted to do. When you add a constant growing to-do list on top of this feeling you can feel like you're working yourself into a hole.
Solution? Think of one task you want to complete every day. When you make that a priority anything else you complete that day is just a bonus.
Mistake #3: Not Paying Attention To Your Finances.
When you're starting out it can be easy to overspend on things you are told you need or feel you need, when in reality that expense can wait. Keeping lean in the early stages is important to any business's success in my opinion, especially if you don't have any capital to play with!
In our case, ICS was built off a maxed out personal $500 credit card. We worked on the company while maintaining full-time jobs and kept our expenses as low as possible. Any money we did make stayed in the company until we were in a position where we needed to be paid to survive. The fortunate part here is that we were young and we didn't need a lot of funds to get by. Shout out to Mr. Noodles and Campbells Soup.
Here's a prime example of saving money, below is a picture of our first "real" office. Where was it? A crawl space above a print shop. It was always 100 degrees in there, mice were rampant but we painted it our ICS orange and that seemed okay by us.
Solution? The things you feel you need or do need might have a lower cost option or free version. Try those options first before committing to an expense. I'm not talking about important services like accounting and legal, this was something we attempted on our own for a while and quickly realized this was a huge mistake that ended up costing us more in the end anyway.
Mistake #4: Trying To Make Everything Perfect.
Focusing on perfection is a great way to slow down your momentum. There's no such thing as perfect, right? That goes for your business too, you're going to put out products and services that aren't perfect since the term is so subjective anyway. Does everyone notice the difference in the quality of your 10-hour blog post to your 3-hour blog post? Probably not like you do. The more you do a task the better the results become.
Solution? Get things done and work on improving the task over time. This will help free up your time for other tasks that need your attention.
Mistake 5: Not Doing Market Validation
Sometimes the biggest mistake you could make is not doing market validation. Do people need your product or service or do you just think they do? Our passion can get the better of us and that can lead us astray.
Solution? Do your research, this could be as simple as reviewing to see if there are similar businesses out there where people are having success and then seeing if your local market has a similar need. Another simple way to complete market validation is to have a survey sent out to an unbiased group of people that will provide you real feedback and data.
Mistakes are going to happen.
The sooner you accept and realize this, the sooner you'll feel good about what you're setting out to accomplish. I've never met a business owner who didn't have a book full of mistakes they experienced when starting their business and even ones they make today, frankly I prefer it this way. Mistakes are what allow us to grow professionally and personally.