Billy Joel once wrote that mistakes are “the only things that you can truly call your own.” Every business owner makes mistakes; on their first day, and likely even today. Some mistakes are good learning experiences, often costing little, or perhaps not much more than a bit of embarrassment. Others can doom your business to failure.
Mistakes in business are common, and you can be 100% certain that you’re not the only one who has ever made one. If you’re the kind of person that can turn every misstep into a learning and growing experience, chances are you’re going to be very successful in whatever business venture you pursue. If, on the other hand, you look to blame everyone and everything around you instead of owning your mistakes, you might find that your tenure as a business owner is going to be short, difficult, and not at all what you expected.
Whether you’ve been in business for years, or are just dreaming up your first business idea, here are six major mistakes your need to avoid in business.
Mistake #1– Thinking You’re All That
In 1985, Quincy Jones organized nearly four dozen famous American and Canadian music artists to record “We Are the World”, in an effort to raise awareness, donations, and combat hunger in Africa and the United States. It was widely reported that he hung a sign on the door leading into the studio that read, “Check your Egos at the Door.” With dozens of music superstars at the time – Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Cindy Lauper, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Willie Nelson, and Billy Joel, to name a few – he was afraid that there would be personality clashes in the studio. Luckily for him, there weren’t.
Having an ego is a good thing. It allows you to trust your instincts and feel good about the job you’re doing. But if you can’t keep it in check, you’ll soon start to think that you are the company, and this can be extremely dangerous both to you and the welfare of your company.
It’s easy to think that as the owner of the business that all successes are yours, but they’re not. Even if you’re the only one working for the business, remember that your clients, your vendors, and your support staff all play a part in your day-to-day success in your business.
While sometimes it feels like you’re the only one doing anything at all for your business, realize that you’re not. Remind yourself that there are plenty of people who helped you get to where you are today. A drop of humility is a powerful balance against the hubris that comes with success in business.
Mistake #2– Treating Everyone the Same
The opening scene in the movie Metropolis shows hundreds of similarly-dressed workers trudging to and from work in straight lines, marching in lockstep. A similar scene was showcased in the Bee Movie. Coincidence? Or a sign of the (sad) times?
For many years, the prevailing wisdom was that workers were cogs in the machine, doing the bidding of overbearing bosses who demanded conformity in order to advance their corporate agenda. This uniformity in business became the hallmark of managerial success in the late 20th century. With the introduction of the Internet as a disruptive technology, the work paradigm shifted away from corporate monoliths to smaller work groups with diverse and complementary skills.
In today’s business economy, companies have come to the realization that their employees are their assets, and each employee brings a different set of skills, talents, and experiences that makes everyone unique. Companies who know how to successfully leverage their employees’ diverse skills are able to adapt much more quickly to the changing work environment.
One of the more common areas in which companies have successfully provided employees with flexibility is in their work schedules. Rather than requiring a 9-5, 40-hour work week, many of today’s most successful companies allow more flexible shifts so their employees can maintain a healthier work-life balance. Work-from-home or telecommuting has also become a popular choice for companies, in order to allow employees to do their jobs when being in a specific physical location isn’t necessary.
Studies have shown that companies that embrace their employees’ differences have been able to respond more quickly and effectively to meet the demands of their customers.
Mistake #3 – Under-hiring/Over-hiring
There is an old adage that says, “If you want a job done right, do it yourself.” Many people who believe this as an absolute truth have a hard time delegating work to other people. In the 2015 movie, The Intern, a hyper-motivated startup business owner played by Anne Hathaway jumps from task to task, taking a hands-on approach throughout her company, which drives her to near-exhaustion. She eventually learns to delegate to her senior intern, played by Robert De Niro.
Throughout your journey as a small business owner, you are going to experience periods of growth where you will need to bring people in to help you, simply because there aren’t enough hours in the day, or you don’t have enough hands. When you feel your workload has become consistently too much to do in the time you spend working, it’s time to look for someone to help lighten your workload.
It might not be a matter of workload, either. Some people are simply not built for a particular task. Creative people may not be the best at reading a personnel spreadsheet or profit and loss report. Others may be able to run the numbers smoothly, but have a hard time thinking outside the box coming up with new and creative ways to provide services or create new products to sell.
But it’s also important to recognize the danger of hiring too many people. There are some companies who go through hiring binges, taking on more people than they really need. After some time, the company goes through a round of layoffs, getting rid of underperforming and/or overpaid workers. This is a disreputable practice and should not be encouraged.
One thing to watch is the unemployment situation in your area. If unemployment is low, you may have to adjust your salary higher to compete with other companies looking for talent in the same marketspace. If unemployment is higher, you may have more of a selection or candidates to choose from, who would be willing to work at a lower salary. This shouldn’t entirely determine whether you hire or fire new employees, but it’s definitely something to consider.
There are many different ways you can look for people to help you with your business. If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of a hiring process, you can call up a local headhunting company and find out how they can help you meet your staffing needs. They can help guide you through the process and help by providing a list of candidates that have already been vetted for the positions you need. See? You’re delegating already!
Mistake #4 – Not Being Prepared for Any Possibility
Benjamin Franklin, the early American politician and inventor, said that “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Every business needs a plan. Multiple plans, in fact. Business plans. Contingency plans. Plans for success. Plans for failure.
There is a business discipline known as risk management. Put simply, it’s the responsibility of the risk management person, people, or department to assess any risks to the company, create scenarios of how particular adverse conditions could affect the company, then plan how to avoid the scenario, or how to minimize the impact of it. War games serve this purpose for the military, and utilities and public safety organizations run drills to improve response time and reduce damage, injuries, or casualties.
Being able to forecast what might happen that could have an impact on your company means that you most likely have a realistic picture of where your company is. While thinking about doomsday scenarios isn’t going to be the most fun you ever had at work, dealing with the fallout from an unexpected event could be far worse.
Start with something simple: your company’s data. What happens if your building has a fire, or your company is the victim of theft? Is your data safe and backed up regularly? Have your backups been checked recently? What about intrusion by hackers? Does your company have policies and procedures in place that will protect and prevent your company information from being accessed without permission?
Once you are sure that all of your data is secure, it’s time to look for other potential risks to your company, so you can plan on reducing or eliminating them. If you can no longer access your office for some reason, can your business still provide service to its clients and customers with access to data backups? How long would it take to set up your company in a backup location? Is there a local workspace you can retain that will guarantee seats for your employees if your business location becomes inaccessible?
Mistake #5 – Not Taking Responsibility
It’s important to remember that when you own a business, you own the company’s mistakes as well as its successes. Studies have shown that successful CEOs are the ones who examine company failures and setbacks to determine the best way to avoid making the same mistakes twice. Failed CEOs, on the other hand, always tend to blame everyone and everything, except themselves.
Things don’t always go the way you plan, and unexpected results could cause anything from mild interruptions to major complications. As the owner of the business, it’s entirely up to you to make sure that any problems that occur are dealt with immediately and with finality. While you might not be the person that has to deal directly with the problem, it’s still your problem. Your business isn’t operating at peak efficiency because something has gone wrong, and that’s what makes it your problem. If no one else can solve the issue, it’s going to be up to you to find a creative, inventive way to get your business back on track, because after you, there’s no one else.
Remember, you are the only person in the company who can’t be fired or leave (at least, not easily). Don’t fall into the habit of looking for a scapegoat every time something doesn’t go as planned, or you’ll wind up as a company known for its revolving door and poor morale. Learn how to learn from your mistakes, and how to turn setbacks into business experiences that can help your business.
Mistake #6 – Not Learning from Your Mistakes
Albert Einstein is mistakenly credited with the quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” While Einstein might not have said it, the underlying premise is still very much true. If you or someone in your company makes a mistake, and you do nothing to correct that mistake, chances are that the same mistake will repeat itself. Good business owners and CEOs know the value in examining a mistake from different perspectives without pointing fingers or assigning blame. By carefully analyzing the mistake, its causes and its outcomes, a solution can usually be found that can mitigate the error and reduce or eliminate the cause of the problem, preventing it from recurring in the future.
It’s also a good idea to keep careful records of these mistakes, so future employees can learn from them and avoid making the same mistakes unintentionally. Some companies offer incentives and prizes for innovative solutions to company problems, to help promote “out-of-the-box” thinking, as well as help identify good problem solvers within the company.
At the end of the day, you are the captain of your company’s ship. No one is going to be more passionate, more dedicated, more enthusiastic, or more critical of your business than you. As a business owner, every aspect of your company is your responsibility. Mistakes are part of the cost of doing business, but you have to find the lessons of value within those mistakes.