It is never fun to make a mistake in business, even if they are inevitable. And worse, mistakes are both more prevalent and more dangerous during the startup phase of your business because your idea has yet to be fully cooked; the startup period is, unfortunately, usually the ‘error’ part of a ‘trial and error’ phase for you business.
That said, even though mistakes are to be expected, they need not be crippling, or even negative. Not a few entrepreneurs have stumbled into success when they discover ways to make money in their business that they didn’t know were possible. For instance, Dr. Spencer Silver was trying to create a super sticky glue for his employer, 3M, when he mistakenly came up with an adhesive that was instead sort-of sticky. What to do with somewhat sticky glue? 3M created the Post-it note, that’s what.
So no, not all mistakes are bad mistakes.
But there are some mistakes that can and should be avoided as you start your business:
1. Taking on too much debt: Most entrepreneurs have to take on some debt to fund the dream. That is expected and fine. But you simply must 1) keep that indebtedness to a minimum, and 2) have a plan for paying it back from the get-go.
It will take a while for that new business to begin to generate revenue, and while that happens your debt load will increase due to interest. And the bigger it grows, the more it threatens the lifeblood of your business, your cash flow. Keep your debt low and get out from under as soon as possible.
2. Having no marketing plan: As I am wont to say, starting a new business is like being alone in a dark room – you know you are there but no one else does. The only way to turn on the light, the only way to get people to know you are out there, is through marketing and advertising.
It need not be expensive. There are scores of ways to get the word out without breaking the bank – everything from tweeting to flyers to creating a viral video can work. In fact, over at my site, www.MrAllBiz.com, I offer a webinar called Marketing on a Shoestring (click Webinars on the homepage.)
Market and advertise your business, and then do it some more.
3. Not choosing well: This may sound a little amorphous, but it’s not – it has to do with looking before leaping, and that is always a good idea in business. For instance, some people get so excited about a business idea that they don’t really stand back and give it the proper, objective analysis they should . . . and then, for instance, they are surprised that the rent at their store in the mall makes turning a profit quite challenging, or that this franchisor is hell to work with.
Other examples of not choosing well include
Choose wisely, grasshopper.
Conventional wisdom would have it that women business owners should excel in customer service. After all, we women are supposed to be tuned in to human relationships, touchy-feely and detail-oriented—all things that should make us experts at customer service, right?
Apparently, wrong. According to the latest Key4Women/Forbes Insights report,“Strategies for the Recovery: Woman-Owned Small Businesses Put the Customer First,” 69 percent of women-owned businesses surveyed say “improving customer service is critical to [their] abilities to recover from the recession.” But just 18 percent have a formal, company-wide customer-service policy in place. And 55 percent said they handle customer service on a case-by-case basis.
Without a strategy for how you’ll handle customer service, your business is going to fall short. Here are some other stunning stats from the survey: 61 percent of women entrepreneurs surveyed don’t use social media for customer service. In fact, 25 percent don’t even have a website! Today, when the first place most customers go to search for a business is online, this approach can be business suicide.
With this type of online inactivity, it’s not surprising that just 28 percent of women send an email newsletter to their customers and only 19 percent have a blog.
But it’s not just online where women entrepreneurs are falling short. Forty-nine percent don’t keep track of customers’ purchasing activity; 77 percent have never offered a rewards program. These simple tactics can help you boost your sales by marketing more to your existing customers—your biggest potential cash cow.
Customer service is the key factor that can set a small business apart. If yours isn’t up to snuff, you’re going to fall behind. Need help? SCORE has lots of resources online, including articles and online workshops that can get your marketing efforts, social media and website up to speed. You can even search for a counselor with customer service expertise to give you personal mentoring.