39 Things You Should Never Do as a Small Business Owner

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Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Management pros

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Want to succeed as a small business owner? Then look out for these 39 mistakes that could be holding you back.

Article 7 Minutes
39 Things You Should Never Do as a Small Business Owner

Running a small business is often exciting, but it comes with a lot of pressure. There are always new opportunities to chase, challenges to be tackled and fires to be put out.

With so much going on, it can be easy to make mistakes here and there. In itself, this isn’t something to be overly worried about. Even the largest firms make missteps, and how you react to them and move on is a key part of the learning experience.

That said, there are a few common errors and bad habits that crop up again and again among small businesses. Therefore, here are 39 things that small business owners should never do if they want to grow their firm.

1. Starting a business for the wrong reason

The 'why' of your company is a big part of your story. You need to show investors you believe in the firm and the values it stands for.

2. Spending too much, too soon

Cash flow is critical for any startup. Economize where you can and focus on only essential expenses to make sure you don't dip too far into the red.

3. Underestimating your initial costs

Starting a firm is expensive, so make sure you budget effectively to avoid any nasty surprises.

4. Aiming for perfection

Don't spend too much time in product or service development trying to make it 100% perfect - the longer it takes to generate income, the worse off you'll be.

5. Having a rigid, outdated business plan

Your business plan is key to your success - but you mustn't be afraid to make changes if the market shifts or you get overtaken by new innovations.

6. Not having an exit plan

Your firm may be your life, but it pays to have an exit strategy. You should always know how long you want to be at the reins and what potential sales options are available.

7. Using the wrong technology

Misaligned technology costs you time and money, so be sure that whatever applications you decide on are appropriate before committing to long-term contracts.

8. Being overambitious

You may have a hundred ideas for product lines or services, but focusing on just a few, more realistic lines will stop you overextending yourself too soon.

9. Ignoring online

Even if your business takes place primarily face-to-face, a strong online presence is essential for your branding and marketing.

10. Being too money-focused

Of course making money is the goal, but don't let this become the be-all and end-all, as this can mean you lose sight of what makes your firm unique.

11. Overinvesting

Counterintuitively, raising more money than you need can be a bad thing, as it adds pressure and forces you to grow too quickly.

12. Taking shortcuts

It may seem tempting to cut corners for short-term gains, but this will inevitably come back to haunt you further down the line.

13. Not knowing the regulations

Whether it's industry-specific requirements, building regulations or tax issues, not knowing the rules can be costly.

14. Relying on debt

Taking out loans isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but don't let it get out of hand.

15. Not doing the market research

Not taking the time to understand the market means you won't know where your firm fits into it, in terms of price, value or uniqueness.

16. Losing your identity

It's easy to become more corporate as you grow - but this can end up diluting what makes your firm special.

17. Focusing on price ahead of value

Know exactly what your products or services are worth - don't try and undercut competitors just to appear cheaper and sacrifice quality or service.

18. Aiming to please everyone

A wide reach will spread your resources too thinly. Focus on a few core areas and do them well rather than appealing to everyone.

19. Not defining a USP

How you stand out in a crowded market is the key to your success. Define what makes your business special and put it at the heart of your messaging.

20. Marketing too widely

Having a local touch can be a great way to stand out, so keep your early marketing relevant to the community you serve.

21. Over-generous promotions

Loss-leaders can be a great way to attract attention, but you need to make sure you're actually drawing in customers who will keep coming back and make you a profit.

22. Ignoring lead generation

Don't just let clients come to you - identifying and nurturing leads is essential if you're to grow.

23. Not following up with clients

Word of mouth is the best marketing - and it’s free! So take the time to keep in touch with your customers and make them feel important.

24. Overpromising and overcommitting

It's easy for growing firms to make grand promises to important clients, or focus too much attention on these accounts - but this can lead to other areas being neglected.

25. Doing it all yourself

Hiring employees is a major expense for small businesses - but new people

will bring skills you don't have and free up your time to focus on your own strengths.

26. Hiring on skills, not culture

Don't just rely on the résumé when hiring. Even the most skilled staff won't be effective if they don't fit the company culture.

27. Not doing due diligence

A bad hire can cost you big time, so even if they seem the right fit, make sure they're up to the job - especially if you're dealing with freelancers who can quickly disappear.

28. Sticking with poor employees

If you do make a mistake in hiring, don't be afraid to rectify it quickly. Sticking with poor workers in the hope they'll improve will cost money.

29. Overestimating your potential for growth

Prove you have a solid, profitable business model before expanding to new locations or markets - otherwise you could end up with expensive new offices your revenue can't cover.

30. Underestimating your potential for growth

On the other hand, thinking too small can hold your firm back and leave you unable to meet demand.

31. Not saying no

It's easy to say yes to any request when you're trying to build your brand - but be realistic and ensure you can actually deliver - and if not, say no.

32. Micromanaging

Once you have the right staff, have faith it them. Butting in on every decision wastes time and builds resentment.

33. Declaring something impossible

You can't innovate unless you think big. Don't be afraid to try something that's never been done before - even if it doesn't work, it can spark new ideas.

34. Taking things personally

It's easy to view the business as an extension of yourself, but when you get complaints, it's important to step back and consider any issues objectively, rather than taking it as personal criticism.

35. Making work your life

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential. Devoting every hour of the day to work is bad for your wellbeing and makes you less productive.

36. Expecting everyone else to match your enthusiasm

Even if you are comfortable working all hours of the day, you can't expect your staff to do the same.

37. Failing to network

It's vital to go out and get yourself noticed. Networking takes time and effort, but the rewards can be huge.

38. Not understanding cultural differences

Expansion means interacting with different business and social cultures, so it's vital you do your research and understand what's the norm and what should be off the table.

39. Not recognizing your mistakes

Self-reflection is an essential asset for any small business owner. If you can't accept you're doing something wrong, or think none of the 38 mistakes above apply to you, you'll keep losing money.

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