Every startup stumbles once or twice on the road to success, and roadblocks that can prove insurmountable for some can turn out to be an opportunity in disguise for others.
These misfires are a rite of passage for every profitable startup, so avoiding them entirely is impossible. It is, however, possible to get clued up to the most common mistakes and prepare yourself as much as possible. With that goal in mind, here are the five biggest mistakes made by startups:
Many entrepreneurs start out with ambitious goals, but don’t follow through with an in-depth plan for how to achieve them.
For example, having a goal based on revenue or market share is a great start, but without a timeframe it can all fall apart pretty quickly. Without breaking the overall goal down into annual increments or monthly targets, that goal will inevitably turn into a big floating number that you’re just gradually chipping away at without any real direction.
Without clear direction, any startup becomes prone to both distraction and discouragement. By not breaking down your goal into smaller objectives, it looms large, so when you’re having a bad week, month, or even quarter, it’s harder to put into perspective and persevere.
The key to avoiding this is to develop a detailed business plan before starting out. Set achievable weekly and monthly targets that, if hit consistently, will see you accomplish your wider business goals. More importantly, determine the performance metrics for your business, such as sales, client meetings, or web traffic, and the numbers you need to attain to hit your targets. Breaking things down in this way helps you feel more in control and less overwhelmed by ambitious goals when inevitable challenges arise.
In contrast to having no plan are entrepreneurs that have one - but it’s far too rigid.
By clinging too tightly onto the original business idea, despite real-world feedback that suggests it's not as relevant or feasible as you initially thought, you can come up against a lot of walls. An inability to adapt a business idea, and let it grow and breath, will result in lost opportunities or, worse, the end of the startup completely.
Startups have a number of disadvantages compared to larger, established companies, but the one advantage they do have is flexibility. Without layers of bureaucracy and scores of employees, startups can make decisions quickly, execute ideas faster, and change course when the need arises. Inflexible entrepreneurs, on the other hand, fail to take advantage of their ability to pivot - making decisions slowly.
To avoid this, view your plan as being fluid and adaptable. Constantly evaluate what’s going on in your business, using real data around your costs, and real feedback from clients, to guide your decisions. Additionally, keep a keen eye on your market and keep on top of trends you could take advantage of.
Doing this transforms your startup from a lumbering freighter, unable to avoid collision with an iceberg, to a sleek catamaran, able to manoeuvre and slice through choppier waters at will.
This one sounds a little bit counter-intuitive but hear us out...
The initial goal of every business, before even profit, is to survive. So, startup owners are mostly concerned with simply keeping the lights on. As a result, resources tend to be dedicated whatever promises a safe return on investment. However, this isn’t always the product or service with the most potential. It can be scary to consider spend the money or time developing an idea for fear that it will fail, but there’s a chance that in playing it safe, you’re missing out on something huge.
To combat this, take a leaf out of Benjamin Franklin’s book and develop the mindset that each of your ideas is an experiment that could either succeed or fail, and have the courage and grit to deal with either outcome.
Fortunately, you can make use of modern development practices such as Agile and the Lean Startup Methodology, to create MVPs (minimum viable product) to get your idea out of your head and into market as quickly as possible. This provides real feedback that you can use to improve the product to consumers liking. Now, your chances from success have been increased, from information you wouldn’t have acquired had you not taken the risk.
There have been a few businesses that have been lucky enough to enjoy early success – bursting onto the scene and turning a profit after just a year or two. While this is exciting, it can lead to its own difficulties. Attempts to scale up and grow without the necessary systems and people in place can end up driving a once successful startup into the ground.
Some of these problems relate to experience, as employees haven’t yet encountered many of the challenges that come with expansion and can easily become overwhelmed.
Problems can also be financial, as startups who experience profitability in the early days can potentially underestimate the capital costs of expansion. As the company grows, costs come along such as new premises, hiring, training, and increasing production costs. These can overwhelm a budget which was originally supposed to stay low for the initial stages of the business.
To avoid this, when your business starts to become successful, temper your excitement and commit to growing at measured pace. Start to streamline business processes as early as possible, with a view to replicate them as you grow. When it comes time to expand, gather your management team and plan your strategy carefully. If necessary, enlist outside help from someone more experienced, such as a mentor or consultant.
While rapid growth is exciting, expansion needs to occur at a natural pace, allowing you to iron out kinks and benefit from lessons learnt along the way.
Resources can be scarce in the early days of a startup, so many entrepreneurs understandably get into the habit of bootstrapping - doing everything themselves. Though this may be necessary when first starting out, getting stuck in that mindset after achieving success will be detrimental to business growth.
Some entrepreneurs refuse to hire additional help due to the financial cost. The result of this is eventually spreading themselves too thin, and inevitably losing the energy and motivation to do a good job.
Others, who do recruit, can be reluctant to give up control, electing to micromanage instead of delegate. This approach does a disservice to; the employees, who lose the chance to learn and become more valuable; the entrepreneur, who loses the opportunity to practice delegation and management; and the business, which could have two people working on separate activities instead of the same one.
To avoid this, take the opportunity to hire and delegate as soon as possible. This will get you in the habit of relinquishing control, which is essential for a growing business, and develop your leadership qualities. Similarly, identify which skills or competencies you lack or need to improve, and instead of taking the time to develop them, at the expense of what you do best, bring in someone who’s already confident in their ability in that area.
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